Wednesday, January 23, 2013

AO 10.0 - The Future (Sloane) is Now

Boom. And, suddenly, the Future is now.

This Australian Open has been Serena Williams' slam to lose for, well, a few months now. Coming into her quarterfinal match against 19-year old, #29-seeded American Sloane Stephens on Wednesday, the 31-year old, 15-time slam champion was riding a 20-match winning streak dating back to last season, and had lost just one match since her shocking 1st Round loss last May at Roland Garros. Even after rolling her ankle early last week, and seemingly tweaking the injury yesterday in her and Venus' doubles loss, she was still the odds-on favorite, by far, to take the title, since she was sporting a 27-4 vs. the three already-minted AO semifinalists -- Azarenka, Sharapova and Li -- and has a 20-1 record since 2005 against the world's #1 and #2.

While the leading lady of this first all-American slam quarterfinal since 2008 was definitely Serena, Stephens was surely the "understudy" studiously preparing for superstardom. Armed with great defensive skills, plus a powerful serve and groundstrokes to round out her game, Stephens has long seemed destined for the Top 10 , and maybe far more. Even before her first slam QF appearance at this AO, the future seemed bright for the personality-loaded Stephens, even as she's struggled the last couple of seasons when trying to put higher-ranked opponents away, resulting in quite a few come-from-ahead losses that, had they gone the other way, would have been looked upon as career milestones. But those stumbles have been easy to view as the typical "growing pains" of a young player, and something that she'd eventually overcome. Her wins in Melbourne, where she's weathered a few storms -- as the favorite over both Laura Robson and Bojana Jovanovski -- seemed to show that Current Sloane was getting close to morphing into Future Sloane and having the virtual world at her beck and call. But whether her future could begin on this day, in by far the biggest match of her career, against Serena, with just one previous Top 15 win to her credit, was another thing altogether.

In the 1st set's opening games, Stephens easily held serve, not dropping a point in her first three service games. But once Serena got an opening, she broke her younger countrywoman for 5-3, then served out a rather routine set at 6-3. She went up 2-0 in the 2nd set, too. But, Stephens, who's spent time with her idol during Fed Cup activities, didn't back down out of fear of Serena's overwhelming aura. Instead, down 2-1, she got a break of Williams serve to even things up, then nosed ahead with a successful passing shot in a hold for 3-2.

Then, soon after, with Serena down 4-3, it happened.

When Williams raced to net to get to a drop shot, she had to make a sudden stop in order to avoid crashing into the net. She moved oddly as she did, then stumbled a bit backward in obvious discomfort. As everyone focused on her previously-injured ankle, Williams was unable to reach up to serve effectively and was broken for 5-3. In the final game before the changeover, Serena showed the tell-tale signs of an injured player, as she tried to smash shots for immediate winners early in the point to avoid having to chase down balls. And, Serena being Serena, it was a effective tactic. Between her winners and a few tight points from Stephens that ended with errors, Williams got the break back, then called for a trainer, who, surprising everyone, began to examine Serena's back.

Afterward, Williams revealed that she'd felt something in her back a few days ago, and then felt a back spasm again after her dash-and-stop at the net. Given medication during her injury timeout, Williams tried to close out the match during the lag-time before the effects of the meds set it. Until then, she simply tried to get her serve inside the box, then use her still-effective groundstrokes to win the points. It worked for one game, as she held at love thanks to a few Stephens errors. But after Stephens grabbed a 30/love lead on Williams' serve two games later, Serena couldn't stage a comeback to win the game and force a potential match-ending tiebreaker. Stephens got the break to take the set 7-5 and force a deciding 3rd.

A few games into the set, Williams' serve, while still never back to "normal," was no longer a put-it-in-play shot. With her ankle not hindering her movement, one would have thought that she'd find a way to put Stephens away. But she didn't. Instead, she became frustrated with her injury situation (later, she called her experiences at this slam maybe her worst ever, and said she was almost "relieved" that she could now put it behind her), smashing her racket and throwing it under her chair after failing to break Stephens, who held for 2-1. One game later, Stephens held a break point, but Serena held for 2-2.

In game #7, Williams got a break on her fourth BP of the game to take a 4-3 lead. But rather than capitulate to Serena, Stephens chose now to take her future -- and present -- into her own hands. She got the break back one game later, then pulled off a nervy, but not nervous, half-volley drop shot to get to 30/30 on her own serve. Stephens saved a break point with a huge forehand down the line winner, then held for 5-4. The match didn't seem like it was close to being over, but it actually was.

In game #10, again, Williams fell behind early on serve, then an error handed Stephens two match points. When a Serena backhand landed in the net, Stephens had won The Battle at Wounded Knee... err, I mean ankle, but, actually, back... by a 6-3/5-7/6-4 score. She flashed her soon-to-be-even-more-popular smile, along with the usual look of "shock" when a young player reaches her first career slam semifinal. But she didn't go crazy rolling around on the Laver Arena court in celebration. No, she has far more composure and determination than that. After getting a few of her usual one-liners off during her on-court interview, she then went to the press room and talked about how she woke up this morning and told herself, "You can with this match, dude." And she did, too.

This is the first time Serena has ever lost to an American younger than she is. And it was to Stephens, the new Top 20 player who has now become the first teen Bannerette to reach a slam semifinal since Serena last did it in 2001, and the first not named Williams since Alexandra Stevenson in 1999. But this will only be the first of many big moments in the career of Miss Sloane Stephens. Sit back and enjoy it... the future has only just begun.

...with Serena now out of the picture, the other three semifinalists, three former slam champs whose six combined majors still amount to only 40% of those won by Serena all by herself, have to be breathing a huge, collective sigh of relief now. Suddenly, it's anyone title to win or lose.

Meanwhile, Stephens is playing with the proverbial "house money," with no real pressure or expectations to weigh her down. I mean, she just beat freaking Serena Williams! Why can't the sky REALLY be the limit... right NOW?

...of course, getting back to Serena, all that said, considering how she usually reacts to these sorts of things, anyone want to lay some odds right now on Williams, especially factoring in her recent affinity for life in France, winning her first Roland Garros since 2002 come the springtime?

...earlier in the day, Victoria Azarenka continued her under-reported skip (with just one stumbling step) through the women's draw, even though she's the #1-ranked player (a ranking she very well may hold onto after the AO, too, now that Serena is out) and defending champion. Against a Svetlana Kuznetsova who did what she often does -- that is, play about HALF a match -- the Belarusian continued to show that her near-miss victory over another young American, Jamie Hampton, earlier in this tournament seems to have focused her more on the task at hand.

The opening part of this match went back and forth, and on and on, with the first four games lasting a total of forty minutes. Kuznetsova won a four-deuce game to begin, then claimed a fifteen-minute game to break Azarenka's serve and take a 3-1 lead. The Russian held for 4-1, but then seemed to hit some sort of physical or, more likely, mental wall. With so many matches on her ledger the last couple of weeks after missing the last half of 2012, fatigue could have been a legitimate factor. But, well, you know, this is Sveta -- and she's sometimes looked tired even when she should be fresh. Whatever the case, Vika stormed back to get a break for 4-3, then got another late break before claiming the set at 7-5 on her third set point.

The pair traded breaks to begin the 2nd, and then Kuznetsova was pretty much a non-factor after that. She double-faulted on break point to fall behind 4-1, and that was all she wrote. Azarenka aced to hold for 5-1, then got one final break to win 7-5/6-1 to advance to her fifth career slam semi, and fourth in the last five slams. the start of Day 11, the first final of this AO will be set. The women's doubles got its first finalists today when top-seeded Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci took out the all-Hordette team of Elena Vesnina & Ekaterina Makarova. They'll play for a third leg of a Career Doubles Slam (the Italians won in Paris and NYC in '12) against the winners of the night session semifinal match between the "Cinderella" unseeded team of Varvara Lepchenko & Zheng Saisai and the "Super Cinderella" Aussie duo of Ashleigh Barty & Casey Dellacqua.

...the junior singles quarterfinals are now set. Some of the bigger results on Day 10 included #3 Ana Konjuh (CRO) doing her best Sharapova impersonation, defeating #15 Allie Kiick (USA) 6-0/6-1; and #10 Anett Kontaveit (EST) taking out #7 Anna Danilina (KAZ). Seven nations are represented in the Girls Final 8, with only the Czech Republic having two players advance.

Here's the breakdown of the Girls & Boys quarterfinalists, by nation:

*JUNIOR FINAL 8's - Girls/Boys*
2...Australia (none; Kokkinakis,Kyrgios)
2...Croatia (Konjuh; Coric)
2...Czech Republic (Krejcikova,Siniakova; none)
2...Italy (none; Baldi,Quinzi)
1...Belgium (Mertens; none)
1...Estonia (Kontaveit; none)
1...Germany (Lottner; none)
1...Latvia (Ostapenko; none)
1...Russia (Kulichkova; none)
1...Serbia (none; Milojevic)
1...Slovak Republic (none; Maruscak)
1...South Africa (none; Montgomery)

...DAY 10 "Reminder From Afar":

hmmm, The Rad sees Aga get ridden out of Melbourne on a rail... and then, within 24 hours, the tournament, in BOTH singles and doubles, gets turned on its head. Coincidence?

I'd sad It's work has been done. The Radwanska works in mysterious ways.


tell me, how is it that Tennis Channel can be broadcasting just a single tennis match -- one -- and yet still figure out how to miss two full games at the start of the 2nd set, as it did during its "live" airing of the Azarenka/Kuznetsova QF today?

-- and speaking of missing things, how is it that ESPN2 can talk about how great a personality and future that Stephens has, then make the decision to not show her first on-court, post-match interview (in this case, conducted by Rennae Stubbs for Aussie TV) after the greatest win of her young career, either live, or just a few minutes later? In previous big matches during this AO, that's precisely what has been done. Oh, it was finally shown -- reading between the lines of what Chris McKendry said as she introduced the footage, only AFTER being bombarded by complaints from viewers -- but it was somewhere around an hour and a half later, thereby losing its immediacy, and long after many of those "new fans" would likely have been watching.

...and, finally, leave it to Stephens to defeat Serena Williams, and then immediately dig into her racket bag to check her phone.

Future -- and Current -- Sloane, indeed.

#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #29 Sloane Stephens/USA
#6 Li Na/CHN vs. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #4 David Ferrer/ESP
#3 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA or #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) def. #4 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) vs. Lepchenko/Sai.Zheng (USA/CHN)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA)
#13 Granollers/M.Lopez (ESP/ESP) vs. Haase/Sijsling (NED/NED)

Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL) def. Hsieh/Bopanna (TPE/IND)
#3 Mirza/B.Bryan (IND/USA) vs. Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE)
Shvedova/Istomin (KAZ/UZB) def. Llagostera-Vives/Marrero (ESP/ESP)
#5 Petrova/Bhupathi (RUS/IND) vs. Gajdosova/Ebden (AUS/AUS)

Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS vs. #8 Elise Mertens/BEL
#3 Ana Konjuh/CRO vs. #12 Barbora Krejcikova/CZE
#10 Anett Kontaveit/EST vs. #4 Antonia Lottner/GER
Jelena Ostapenko/LAT vs. #2 Katerina Siniakova/CZE

#1 Nikola Milojevic/SRB vs. #8 Filippo Baldi/ITA
#3 Nick Kyrgios/AUS vs. #7 Wayne Montgomery/RSA
#11 Borna Coric/CRO vs. Matej Maruscak/SVK
Thanasi Kokkinakis/AUS vs. #2 Gianluigi Quinzi/ITA

#1 Konjuh/Zhao (CRO/CAN) vs. #5 Danilina/Kulichkova (KAZ/RUS)
Buayam/Z.Sun (THA/CHN) vs. #6 Korashvili/Krejcikova (UKR/CZE)

H.Chung/D-Y.Kim (KOR/KOR) vs. Marterer/Mielder (GER/AUT)
Andrijic/Mousley (AUS/AUS) vs. Couacaud/Napolitano (FRA/ITA)

2007 Serena Williams, USA*
2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS*
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Serena Williams, USA*
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2013 Maria Sharapova, RUS
* - won title

2006 Wimbledon - Justine Henin-Hardenne (RU)
2007 Roland Garros - Justine Henin (W)
2008 Australian Open - Maria Sharapova (W)
2008 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic (W)
2009 U.S. Open - Serena Williams
2010 Wimbledon - Serena Williams (W) *
2010 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2013 Australian Open - Maria Sharapova
* - co-Top Player in Early-Rds.

[Victoria Azarenka]
Australian Open (2) - 2012 (W), 2013
Wimbledon (2) - 2011, 2012
U.S. Open (1) - 2012
[Sloane Stephens]
Australian Open (1) - 2013

[Career - Active Leaders]
22...Serena Williams (19-3)
19...Venus Williams (14-5)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
4...Ana Ivanovic (3-1)
4...LI NA (2-1)
4...Samantha Stosur (2-2)
4...Vera Zvonareva (2-2)
4...Petra Kvitova (1-3)
4...Caroline Wozniacki (1-3)
5...Serena Williams (5-0)
4...LI NA (2-1)
4...Petra Kvitova (1-3)

unseeded - Jennifer Capriati, 2000
unseeded - Serena Williams, 2007 (W)
unseeded - Zheng Jie, 2010
wild card - Justine Henin, 2010 (RU)
#32 - Fabiola Zuluaga, 2004
#22 - Patty Schnyder, 2004
#19 - Nathalie Dechy, 2005
#16 - Li Na, 2010

2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Serena Williams, USA
2008 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2009 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2010 Zheng Jie, CHN & Li Na, CHN
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Sara Errani, ITA
2013 Sloane Stephens, USA

2011 Andrea Petkovic, GER
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Laura Robson, GBR

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 (in SF)

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Lesia Tsurenko/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Cagla Buykakcay/TUR d. Tamarine Tanasugarn/THA 4-6/6-2/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - Laura Robson/GBR d. #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE 2-6/6-3/11-9
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - #29 Sloane Stephens/USA d. #3 Serena Williams/USA 3-6/7-5/6-4
TOP LAVER NIGHT MATCH: 2nd Rd. - Laura Robson/GBR d. #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE 2-6/6-3/11-9
FIRST VICTORY: #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS (def. O.Puchkova/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Mona Barthel/GER (lost to K.Pervak/KAZ in 1st Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-6 in 1st Rd.; 1-7 overall)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR & Valeria Savinykh/RUS (3rd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: #9 Samantha Stosur (2nd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: #29 Sloane Stephens/USA
IT (Fortysomething): Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (at 42, oldest AO MD match winner)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
CRASH & BURN: #9 Samantha Stosur/AUS (lost to J.Zheng in 2nd Round; led 5-2 in 3rd and served for match at 5-2 and 5-4)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (down 3-0 in the 3rd set vs. Lisicki in 1st Rd.; had lost back-to-back 1st Rd. slam matches)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Laura Robson/GBR (def. Kvitova in 2nd Rd.; third win over former slam winner at last two slams)

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

to say the least, that's 2 surprises today for me. i was surprised vika held her head after the 1-4 behind in 1st set, which she didn't look really promising but again showed that she is here to play. somehow not sure you notice, all her opponents were/are all inspired/spirited players who either had great comebacks, breakthroughs or streaky runs into this AO.

of course the 2nd match...mmm...i was surprised that serena actually smashed her racket to pieces. so much for calmness she mentioned so often this AO, and was surprised that sloane still got the 2nd set after she literally threw out 5-3 advantage then.

oh well, the Radwanska does work in the most bizzare way. so IT bothered vika's match in 3rd round, aga's match yesterday, now serena's match today.... and which match will it be for tomorrow?! ooohhhh...leave us all guessing.

Wed Jan 23, 05:00:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

It's funny, I had been under the impression since the first few rounds of the tournament that this one was set for a collision between Serena and a top-shape Sharapova in the final. Now that one missed the "collision date", I don't see how anyone can stop the other. Maybe it's a plan for It to let Sharapova take more power/energy? After all, we know It later plans to sustain on her... Poor Maria!

I'm glad that I went to bed after Kuznet's loss. My nerves wouldn't have survived Federer's 5-setter.

Wed Jan 23, 07:58:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

It was just so jarring to watch that match yesterday. Sloane made Serena look old -- even before the back injury which just made Serena look even older. It was so odd to see these Serena's shots come back and come back and come back.

I felt like I was watching Andy Roddick take on Pete Sampras.

But what surprised me most was how Sloane kept coming in and then executing VOLLEYS...not swinging volleys, but honest to goodness punch volleys. That was a good tactic.

Seriously, Sloane, who is sneaky quick, made Serena look slow. AND made Serena's shots look flimsy compared to the heavy pace of Sloane's forehand.

Sloane hasn't refined all of the tennis skills and tactics yet (especially under pressure)...but her athleticism certainly makes others nervous.


On the flip side...Serena was TIGHT...and her shot selection was poor. Sloane loves the DTL forehand and Serena kept not defending against it... Also, Serena's backhand was severely misfiring. She said after the match that once her back locked up, she couldn't rotate on the backhand side. And her forehand timing was off at times too.

But I think the biggest thing was that Serena beat herself. She still had chances in the 2nd and 3rd sets and she didn't take them...she couldn't get over her "misfortune"...despite having an inexperienced opponent. For all of her competitive spirit, Serena's mental edge has been dulled with the weight of expectation and fear of The Twilight.

Playing while you're not at the peak of your career is a labor of love. All of the firsts that you experience are uncomfortable:
- First loss in the opening of a grand slam
- First loss to a younger American opponent.

I was going to say something else but I forgot. :)

Wed Jan 23, 08:46:00 AM EST  
Blogger Overhead Spin said...

I don't think Sloane made Serena look slow. I think Serena's injury made Serena look slow. When you are carrying an injury you pay more attention to it than to your game. That being said, I still don't buy into the narrative that Sloane is the future. The woman has yet to get to a Tour final and she gets beat on a consistent basis by players who she should be beating.

For whatever reason, the US media really wants Sloane to be the future. I recall a few years ago it was another young American who was the future. Her name is Melanie Oudin. These days, when the Fed Cup line up is mentioned, Oudin's name is not even mentioned. It is all about Sloane.

Tennis is a very unforgiving sport and those at the top are too unforgiving. All of a sudden a player who has 53 of her last 54 matches is now the past. Really, tennis? Really.

Finally, what is up with Capriati and her loser comments after last night's match? The woman needs to find a therapist's couch somewhere and have a long conversation about her pathetic life.

Wed Jan 23, 08:57:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Oh right, so it's more of a personal comment than anything...but how nice is it to be young and to be able to swing freely and how everything is an opportunity.

But good match from Sloane and credit to her for sticking with it and not letting the situation or the opponent get to her.


Have you noticed that both Sloane and Madison keys have distanced themselves from the Sisters in the press?

Madison used to say she was inspired to play because of a dress Venus wore...but now she leaves that bit out...AND states that her favorite player is Clijsters.

Sloane used to call Serena her mentor, god...Todd, I think you even said it sounded name-droppy. But even before their match in Brisbane...that deference wasn't as apparent.

The young ones are growing up...

I'm feeling old today...


Li Na and Andy Murray are looking really muscle-y...

Wed Jan 23, 08:58:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Whoa...TennisAce responded to my comment! I read your comments all the time lol. Or at least I think it's you on other blogs...

Yeah...I also think that Sloane needs to improve some things...especially off the backhand wing...She did get lucky with some stab shots yesterday...they not only landed in, but in difficult positions for Serena...but I mean she handled the situation, which is more than a lot of players can do so...That's an upside.

Wed Jan 23, 09:01:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Wait what did Capriati say?

Wed Jan 23, 10:25:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Jo -

Hmmm, Barty & Dellacqua are in the Women's Doubles final against Errani & Vinci. Maybe THAT's where The Rad will strike next?

Zidane -

Well, the higher Maria goes, the harder she might fall. I sense The Rad would enjoy that. It's probably still chuckling about how Vika destroyed her in last year's final... maybe It wants a sequel?

Eric -

Yeah, I think I did use something "name-droppy" about Stephens back then. I mean, she WAS saying things like, "my friend Serena" way too often in interviews at the time. She HAS stopped doing that, though.

TA -

Yeah, the U.S. media jumped on Oudin too fast, but I really think it was unavoidable with her Open QF run, so that was more of an "in the moment" response than the one with Stephens. It was much more apparent that Oudin's game had some limitations, what with her size and power deficiencies, because of that. I can remember, at least, the ESPN2ers questioning after that U.S. Open just how high she could go (maybe Top 20, which in retrospect, might have been too generous), and saying she had LOT of work to do to come close to maintaining anything close to the results she had that slam. Stephens has a game much better formulated to compete on the current tour.

Plus, as least as far as I've always been concerned, my tagging of her with the "Future" moniker had as much to do with how big (or bigger) she might become OFF the court in comparison to what she might do on it. And I DO that think that rise is a given. Soon, too.

We'll have to see, of course, if "future Sloane" has the intended impact, but I know that "Future Sloane" will. We're all with you, Citizen Anna. :)


And, finally, a couple belated and previously overlooked "Likes" from Day 10:

1) during the Stubbs interview, when asked about having Serena's poster on her wall, Stephens shooting back that maybe she'll have to put a poster of HERSELF on her wall now.

2) at the end of her ESPN2 interview w/ Pam Shriver, Stephens, as always, as she was walking out of camera range, making sure (once again) to ask people to follow her on Twitter. Apparently, her numbers jumped way up, too.

Wed Jan 23, 10:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Here's Capriati's Twitter page. I'm guessing the comment that's gotten people in a lather (based on her more recent Tweets about people being "cruel") the most might be when she said she hoped that Williams didn't come out with some "excuse" for her loss.

Wed Jan 23, 10:59:00 AM EST  
Blogger Overhead Spin said...

Hi Eric, I think I might be the same person. Who knows these days.

I like Sloane and I have been following her progress for sometime now. I recall I even had a story about her dad (who was in prison at the time) if I recall (then again I could be mistaken).

I think the mentor thing came about because of Fed Cup. When Serena decided to play Fed Cup last season, the younger generation of players finally got a chance to hit with her and to get tips. They came away impressed by her work ethic and her attention to detail when practising. I don't know whether you could call that mentoring, but I think it showed the younger generation just what it would take to get to the standard of a Serena.

Frankly speaking, I think Serena playing Fed Cup has helped these youngsters even more than any coach could ever do.

Wed Jan 23, 11:50:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Here's the link to a NY Times article about Stephens and her barely-just-begun relationship with her father when he died in 2009.

An NFL running back who was the Rookie of the Year in 1988, who actually won the league's top humanitarian honors, John Stephens was never really the same after a knee injury leading up to playing in an all-star game after his rookie year made his first season in the league the best he'd ever have. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to rape in 1994, and was placed on probation. After learning he had a degenerative bone disease, he began a phone relationship with Sloane, who he'd only met a few times. He died in an auto accident in 2009, right as Sloane was just starting to make some big waves in top junior events.

Wed Jan 23, 12:08:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said... bball...the last 2 minutes are always fouls and free throws that last another 30 minutes. Thank goodness it isn't a close game.

(How was that Todd, did I fake the lingo well enough? ;D)

Wed Jan 23, 09:37:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, actually, you did! Ha!

Wed Jan 23, 11:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

2 of the Top 3 are gone...after Radwanska loses...eerie calm for sure!!

Is this the 16th slam final for Carlos?

That was such a high quality match and the closest 2 and 2 match that I've seen since I watched Serena play Capriati a loooooooong time ago.

Everyone always says that Li Na's forehand is her weaker side...but it really isn't. Her weaker side is her mind in tense moments. The forehand is just a barometer of her confidence. So, for example, she was very confident the first part of 2011 and thus her forehand was awesome in tight moments...just like it was today.

I feel like the commentators from around the world are very divided about Li's forehand. The Eurosport media says that her forehand is her major weapon since she gets more winners on that side. The Chinese media are always judging her forehand since she makes easy errors on that side. And the American media are split. When her forehand is terrible, they talk about how great her backhand is. When her forehand is great they talk about how great the forehand it is.

Maybe it's a study in cultures. Lol.

And when Li Na was getting her wins against top players, both sides were firing. And no, Chris Fowler, this is not the best match Li Na has ever played. Did you not watch the French Open in 2011?


Azarenka is doing a good job keeping the ball on Sloane's backhand side. Also, Azarenka knows how quick Sloane is so she's hitting the ball to Sloane and kind of jamming her. Sloane's micro-footwork is still developing.

Serena, are you watching?!?


Chris Evert is a good tactician...and so stable. I want her to be my coach.

Thu Jan 24, 12:02:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, well Rodriguez went to 12 slam finals with Henin. :-/

"Everyone always says that Li Na's forehand is her weaker side...but it really isn't. Her weaker side is her mind in tense moments. The forehand is just a barometer of her confidence."

Very good point.

"And no, Chris Fowler, this is not the best match Li Na has ever played. Did you not watch the French Open in 2011?"

I was thinking the same thing. Of course, ESPN has acted all tournament as if the only two players in the women's draw were Serena and Sharapova, so I don't expect anyone to really give any credit to Li (or Azarenka) until they absolutely HAVE to.

Thu Jan 24, 12:26:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

For some reason, I thought Justine had been to 15 finals. Not sure why.

Todd, you say too many insightful things! If I pointed them all out, I'd basically just be copy/pasting your write-ups lol.

Thu Jan 24, 12:49:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

I think the crowd is really excited because this is the first teenager on either tour to really make a dent on the old guard. It's exciting.

Sloane is making everyone look old and feeble. And then their backs go out.

Thu Jan 24, 01:16:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Oh we go..."icing the kicker"...lord have mercy. Stoooopp Talkinggggggggggggg.

The commentators would not have cared if Azarenka's opponent was Li Na.

But I was surprised by how subdued the crowd was towards Vika.

Thu Jan 24, 01:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...


Q. Sloane Stephens has been eating dinner at the same restaurant every night. Have you been going to the same place?
LI NA: No, I always try different. No, because, I mean, I didn't want to do always the same. I like to try different food to enjoy the life.
But we always do the same things. If I play next day, and tonight all the team will have together for dinner.

Q. Has Carlos shown you a couple new places in Melbourne you haven't been to before?
LI NA: I always take them to Chinese food. Doesn't matter they want or didn't want. I say, Tonight we go Chinese restaurant. They say, Okay. First two times, they was so exciting. After third time, they say, Okay.
I didn't how you say if I have a choice, I would never choose the western food. So maybe they know. They just say, Okay. Still after dinner they have to say, Thank you.
I was so exciting. Okay, you're welcome, you're welcome. They was like, Oh, my God.

Thu Jan 24, 01:41:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, that's the unfortunate side effect of having a new American player to pay attention to -- now the ESPN commentators can ignore other players EVEN MORE, and telecast the matches with comments as if they're broadcasting from the living room of the U.S. player in question. Pam Shriver has some particularly egregious moments during the Azarenka/Stephens match.

Oh, and I'll listen to the talking heads on there talk about the Aussie crowd liking "sportsmanship" when they criticize how, for two years now, the "sporting" Aussie has continually been cold toward Azarenka and mimicked her sounds during her matches.

So far, though, Vika's had the last laugh -- she's gone 13-0 at the AO the last two years.

Thu Jan 24, 02:15:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

ahh... i was getting nervous seeing vika wasting match points after match points. she was so nervous + excited knowing how close she repeating history. poor girl. i don't know why others don't really appreciate her, she is also only 23, a first time defending champion. but, vika is used to be against the crowd, under pressure. that's her quality.

i am sure the crowd will be behind li too, cos she is more pleasant/mild with her off court appearance. just hope vika ia fully fit and healthy, she will need to run against li.

so who would have thought, not serena not maria, the early tourney favorites.

mmm. this is a real test for vika. can she defend it. the desire is there, she just needs to control her demonic emotions (hope she learned from her US open experience... it is not very pleasant today). though li seems to be playing a much more cleaner and clinical game. carlos, quite magical so far with this partnership.

Thu Jan 24, 02:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I thought either Li or Radwanska would get to the final, and I was thrilled to see Li keep it all together tonight. What a performance.

Thu Jan 24, 02:57:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

HAHAHA -- I'm watching Sports Center...the commentator just said, "Look at that overhead winner against Stephens."

Too bad it was a lob.


So I guess it makes sense that two of the top 3 players lose after The Rad loses...but the only still standing -- Vika, who was the anti-Rad in 2012...

It's all a part of a greater plan...

Thu Jan 24, 03:08:00 AM EST  
Blogger Overhead Spin said...

I tell you ESPN should pay me for my analysis. I picked Li over Sharapova and Vika over Sloane. Vika got tight on MPs just because not only had she been there before but she could not believe that she was doing it again. Look for her to be calm in Saturday's final.

As for the Sharapova match, I can't recall a player looking so untouchable one minute and then semi-frozen the next. Pova looked as if everything that Hogstedt told her to do against Li was not working and she had no clue what else to do. There were looks of frustration to her box and one wonders how much longer this relationship will last if Sharapova is unable to win a title off any surface other than clay.

Thu Jan 24, 10:04:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, when you steal a player's coach like Sharapova did, karma is always lurking...

Thu Jan 24, 11:57:00 AM EST  

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