Tuesday, January 15, 2013

AO 2.0 - The Concern Before the Alarm

Monday produced a fairly calm day on the courts in Melbourne. Well, Tuesday's second verse was nearly the same as the first. Well, unless you count the moment when the entire foundation of the tournament seemed to have been cracked from one end to the other as an injured Serena Williams went down in a heap in the backcourt in front of a stunned Hisense Arena crowd, that is.

Leading 4-0 over Romania's Edina Gallovits-Hall, Williams chased down and returned a forehand just off the right baseline, then planted her foot and turned it over. Flat on her back and clutching at her right ankle as a trainer called for help and EGH looked on from a few feet away, suddenly all the thoughts of a sixth Australian Open title, a "Serena Slam II" or even a true Grand Slam in 2013 were thrown into jeopardy.

The Radwanska had seemed to have struck a mighty blow. Maybe It's mightiest blow ever.

But, Serena is something of a superhero. As she silently looked on in the changeover area, a trainer assessed her injury, re-taped her ankle and Williams went back out on court. She proceeded to sweep the next eight games of the match, double-bageling (or, considering the evil force that even Serena is now actively fighting against, maybe I should say "double-meloning") her opponent 6-0/6-0 in a fifty-five minute match that lasted an even shorter amount of time than Maria Sharapova's double-melon on Day 1. Williams is now 49-1 in career 1st Round matches at slams, and has fifteen straight grand slam match wins.

Of course, after the match, Serena admitted to still experiencing pain in her ankle, which HAD swelled. The next day or so will help determine just how serious her injury is. Williams, noting how she doesn't always want to know the true extent of an injury, said in her post-match presser, "I think sometimes what you don't know can't hurt you." Hmmm, sort of like the threat of The you-know-What. But, as of now, it looks like the player who's already won multiple AO titles while fighting off bad form, bad fitness and various injuries in the past has taken The Rad's first shot in Melbourne and survived to tell about it. Thanks to her usual, heavy pre-match tape job on both her ankles, that is, which helped prevent a truly wicked moment from occurring on Day 2 of this slam. She'll play, Serena said with a laugh, unless "something fatal" happens.

Shhhhh. Don't play It's game, Serena.

I'll have you know, though, as Serena crumpled to the court, The Radwanska Threat Level was briefly jumped up to "Alarm." It's now settled back down to "Concern." But, for sure, the little man locked away in the corner room in the baseline of Backspin HQ has an itchy and ready finger. I suspect it won't take much for him to hit the button and raise the threat to "Panic," skipping right over "Paranoia" (in silent tribute to Vika's rise from #3 to #1 last year in Melbourne?) and sending everyone around here running around in circles, chasing their OWN ankles... let alone Serena's injured one.

...with multiple ruminations on The Rad's fabled Plan moving in and out of a certain Backspinner's brain today, forgive me if I pause to consider whether the fact that both the youngest AND oldest players in the women's singles draw notched wins today should be looked upon as a wonderful coincidence, or a darkly-humorous shot across the bow of the entire WTA field on the day BETWEEN Aga matches.

Oh, speaking of her, she's got a new website. Enter, if you dare.

The two aforementioned winners were Donna Vekic, 16, a 6-1/6-2 winner over Andrea Hlavackova, and 42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who became the oldest women's singles match winner ever at the AO with a 6-2/6-0 win over... wait for it... #12-seed Nadia Petrova. Oh, Nadia. One season after a new coaching situation seemed to energize her mind, body and results, it seems as if Petrova is not handling her recent break with coach Ricardo Sanchez well. The, umm, "unique" Sanchez can be heard (well, read) riffing and dishing on players such as Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and The Big 3 here.

...as far as Caro goes, she pulled off a little early "Zombie Queen" nominee action today against Sabine Lisicki. During the match, the Dane resorted to her old, old style of probably playing a bit TOO much defense and allowing Lisicki to dictate the match. Too bad for the German that she wasn't up to taking it. Lisicki won the 1st set 6-2, and had three break points in the 2nd to get back on serve as Wozniacki served for the set at 5-3. Caro held on her second set point, but quickly fell down 3-0 in the 3rd. But then Lisicki's chances went down in a cascade of errors, as Wozniacki sat back and watched it all happen, winning 2-6/6-3/6-3.

...in other matches, #7 Sara Errani, a quarterfinalist in Melbourne a year ago, was taken out 6-4/6-4 by Carla Suarez-Navarro, no stranger when it comes to upsetting big names in a slam. Petra Kvitova was forced to three sets by Francesca Schiavone, but didn't go down in flames, winning 6-4/2-6/6-2. She'll face Laura Robson next in the first truly intriguing big match of this AO.

2012 Roland Garros junior champ Annika Beck upset #28-seeded Yaroslava Shvedova 6-2/6-7/6-3. Thus, the Kazakh won't get that additional slam shot at Serena, after all. So, I guess that means The Rad lost ONE weapon today. Score! Sorry, Slava.

Elsewhere, Kristina Mladenovic won an 11-9 3rd set over Timea Babos, while Garbine Muguruza outlasted Magadalena Rybarikova in a 14-12 3rd set in an almost three and a half hour match.

...four more qualifiers advanced to the 2nd Round, including Akgul Amanmuradova, Luksika Kumkhum and Daria Gavrilova, the latter who's now soliciting coaching advice from none other than one Martina Hingis.

Late in the day, #24-seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's quick start to the '13 season turned out to mean little in Melbourne, as she lost in three sets to Backspin's Q-Player of the Week Lesia Tsurenko. The Ukrainian had served at 5-1 and 5-3 in the 3rd, but failed to put the match away. She never held a match point, but twice got to within two points of the match before Pavlyuchenkova knotted things at 5-5. Finally holding serve for 6-5, Tsurenko got to match point for the first time one game later, then took out the Brisbane runner-up on her second MP attempt.

...also late on Tuesday, Jamie Hampton upset the #31 seed. Now, I won't say WHICH player it was, because I don't want to make anyTHING (hint, hint) angry. But, well, let's just say that Aga will have to tell her, "that's okay, WE'LL get 'em next time" on Wednesday.

Oh, Jamie. What have you done? Hopefully, this won't result in the Threat Level being raised tomorrow. Crossing fingers.

...with the 1st Round mostly complete, some interesting records have been compiled by several nations.

Some of the good: China is 3-1, and the Czech Republic is 5-2, but neither are a match for Japan (3-0) or, stunningly, the entire Serbian squad, which went 4-0.

Some of the bad: host Australia, otherwise known as this AO's "Nation of Poor Souls," is 1-5, with usually hard-luck Sam Stosur the only woman in the 2nd Round, and Jarmila Gajdosova still to play her first match Tuesday night on Laver. Italy is 1-4, while Hungary is 0-3.

Meanwhile, the countries with the most players in the draw -- 7-6 Russia & the 6-5 U.S. -- had mixed results.

...DAY 2 "LIKES":

an ESPN2 crew member literally wheeling Andy Murray, in a swivel chair, onto the edge of the set as Pam Shriver and Chris McKendry were talking on air, taking them by surprise as Pammy looked over her shoulder and suddenly saw the Scot sitting there. Kudos to the director who (likely unintentionally) widened the camera shot so that we got to see Murray creeping up from behind. Oh, if only we'd get such fair warning before a Radwanska attack.

-- geez, a double-dose of Murray. I'm also listing here his literal tossing away of a Vegemite sandwich during one of the usual taped segments at every AO (this time on Tennis Channel) where a reporter tries to get players to sample the foul-tasting, dark brown Australian food paste made from yeast extract, which sampling seems to be a particular bit of torture for many non-Aussies. Including myself, by the way. Blech!

-- and since I mentioned Tennis Channel, how can I not once again include the on-air commentary of Martina Navratilova here?

...DAY 2 "NOT SURE":

while Serena was rolling her ankle and double-meloning Gallovits-Hall, Vika Azarenka was simultaneously defeating Monica Niculescu and her crazy forehand slices 6-1/6-4 (and, no, I won't mention anything about Serena, Maria and Aga combining to produce five melons in six sets played in the 1st Round, while Vika had none). Somehow, having two such big names in the women's field on the court at the same time seems "wrong." Would Roger and Rafa, if both were in the draw, that is, be scheduled to play at the same time?

But then I thought about it, and began to wonder, considering the two could meet in the semis in the possible women's match of the tournament, might having them play at the same time in earlier rounds actually be a sign that the AO is a truly well-organized and thought-out event, as neither is going to get an advantage should there be a rain delay. I mean, compare and contrast such an occurrence with the U.S. Open, with its sometimes-odd scheduling, single-roofed arena and constant rain delays which have caused organizers to simply throw up their hands and change the format so that the women's final will now be scheduled for a Sunday, with the men's final on a Monday (no matter how much the ATP protests). With everything already pushed back in New York with the tournament still seven months away, anyone want to lay the odds on whether we'll have our first, weather-delayed men's Open final on a Wednesday come summer?

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah. Serena and Vika playing at the same time. Well, it just felt a bit strange. That's all.

...and, finally, in case you were wondering whether Hannah Storm would step in something smelly at some point in this slam, that won't be happening because she's not in Melbourne. Actually, she's lucky she's able to be anywhere after a very scary-sounding propane grill accident this past December. Don't worry, though. With difficulty, she's back on the air now, and I'm sure she'll be back one day to wreak havoc with some ESPN2 tennis coverage down the line.

Backspin wouldn't have it any other way.

WI: Great Britain (0-6 1st Rd.)
WI: Australia (1-3 1st Rd., Stosur & Dokic losses)
US: Czech Republic (2-5 1st Rd., Kvitova loses)
AO: Great Britain (0-4 1st Rd.; all on Day 1)
RG: Romania (1-5 in 1st Rd.; Cadantu double-bageled)
WI: Slovak Republic (1-3 in 1st Rd.; all 3 w/ WTA titles lost)
US: Germany (four of nation's five highest-ranked players out in 1st Rd.)
AO: Australia (1-5 in 1st Rd.) #
# - before Gajdosova's 1st Rd. match

2008 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic (QF)
2010 Samantha Stosur (4th Rd.)
2011 Samantha Stosur (3rd Rd.)
2012 Casey Dellacqua, Jelena Dokic & Olivia Rogowska (2nd Rd.)
2013 Samantha Stosur in 2nd Rd.; Jarmila Gajdosova to finish 1st Rd. on Night 2

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Lesia Tsurenko/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Cagla Buykakcay/TUR d. Tamarine Tanasugarn/THA 4-6/6-2/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
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 (1-5 in 1st Rd., w/ Gajdosova still to play 1st Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: M.Keys in 2nd Rd. (Gajdosova to play 1st Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: #9 S.Stosur in 2nd Rd. (Gajdosova to play 1st Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #12 N.Petrova (lost 1st Rd. 6-2/6-0 to 42-year old Date-Krumm, oldest main draw women's winner in AO history)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #10 C.Wozniacki (down 3-0 in the 3rd set vs. Lisicki in 1st Rd.)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Blogger J said...

Caro had just 8 UFEs in the entire match compared to Sabine's 57.

How is that even possible in a ridiculous match like that?

Tue Jan 15, 10:24:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Caro putting the ball back over the net until her opponent screws up a shot is how she got to #1, but with so many more hard-hitting, aggressive and at least a bit more consistent women at the top of the game now, it usually doesn't work as well as it used to. Of course, Lisicki, as her UEs here showed, isn't necessarily one of those people. If she'd been able to keep the ball in the court, even on touch shots like the easy drop volley into a nearly-open court that she missed when trying to steal away the match late in the 2nd set, she would have won this match.

The ESPN2 commentators talked about Lisicki tiring out in the heat, while Wozniacki's offseason work kept her fresh. That may have played a great part, too. But, then again, Lisicki is capable of going off even when she's not tired.

Tue Jan 15, 12:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

When she's on, Lisicki can hit very powerfully and also show a very soft touch, and her court sense is really good. But (like a certain Czech) she cannot stay consistent in the head part. Perhaps all those injuries kept her off the court too much.

Tue Jan 15, 01:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

Just like the spanish inquisition nobody expects svetlana kuznetsova...shes my dark horse and the draw is looking promising for her. If she makes it there and plays her top form against Azarenka and Serena anything could happen.I fear her in full form and dont forget she can beat anyone on her day.Because ive just said that its more than likely shell now go on and lose her next mach without getting a game.Being a kuznetsova fan is mentally draining....

Tue Jan 15, 01:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It's interesting how Wozniacki's little section has played out. She next plays Vekic, the youngest player in the draw. The winner meets a qualifier (Gavrilova or Tsurenko), and then that winner gets the survivor of Kuznetsova/Hsieh vs. Putintseva/CSN for a berth in a QF, likely against Vika.

Caro's win over Lisicki might end up keeping her in the Top 10.

Tue Jan 15, 01:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger J said...

Maria just posted her second double bagel in a row in just 47 minutes.

That's 24 games in a row and she never even faced a break point. And only 9 UFEs for the entire match.

Ridiculous and awesome.

Wed Jan 16, 02:29:00 AM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home