Thursday, January 17, 2013

AO 4.0 - Moonlight Serenade

On Night 4, Rod Laver Arena felt a little like Arthur Ashe Stadium, as two hard-hitting lefties, at the end of the hottest day of this slam, battled into the early morning in a seesaw display of power tennis that, at times, left both grasping for glory AND at straws. But only one could surge last.

In this AO's first truly intriguing match-up, the final night match at the end of a long day pitted Petra Kvitova against Laura Robson. This seemed to be good news for Kvitova, an asthmatic known for poor play in the blazing heat and humidity. But, of course, very little has been easy for the Czech since she won Wimbledon in 2011.

Brit Robson, actually born in Australia, opened the match with two double-faults in the first game, leading to a break. It set the stage for a contest full of ultra-short rallies and hit-or-miss play from both women. With her notoriously streaky play still in evidence early this season, Kvitova, looking for her first back-to-back match wins since the U.S. Open, opened her first service game with an ace. Then, she proceeded to throw in two DF in the game and give away her break advantage. In Game #3, Robson saved break point and, with two aces, held for 2-1. But, from there, Kvitova began to seize control of the set.

Up 5-2, Kvitova served for the set, taking a 40/15 advantage... then had a little adventure that extended the game to over ten minutes in length. From double-set point up, Kvitova hit back-to-back DF, then later threw in a third in the game while Robson held break point on six different occasions. Kvitova fought them all off, though, before finally holding to take the set at 6-2 with an ace.

In the 2nd, after Robson had failed to put away two break points attempts for a 2-0 lead, Kvitova proceeded to hit several error-prone skids that helped Robson, gradually finding her timing on Kvitova's serve, gain a foothold. The Brit broke the Czech with a big return of serve for 3-1, then continued to up her game as Kvitova's tailed off. Another break made it 5-1. Robson failed to serve out the set in her first attempt, double-faulting on BP, but she didn't let the set slip away, holding to grab the set at 6-3.

In the deciding set, Kvitova opened on serve and was immediately challenged by Robson. You sort of got the sense that if the Czech's game slipped early, it might REALLY fall away. But she battle through a two-deuce game and got the hold, punctuated by one of her trademark bark-screams. Kvitova then immediately went up triple break point on Robson in the next game, breaking her, then holding at love for a 3-0 lead. So... she then coasted to victory, right?

Come on, this IS Petra.

Serving up 3-1, she got to a game point for 4-1... then proceeded to toss in three DF in the next four points. After pulling back on her next serve, Kvitova then saw Robson jump all over it and send back a deep return that the Czech sprayed wide. Suddenly, the set was back on serve. One game later, Kvitova got to break point on Robson's serve, and when the Brit netted a backhand off a deep return the Czech was on top again at 4-2. It didn't last long. After showing such mental toughness, she opened game #7 with another DF, then it was followed by a Robson service winner. After a break at love, and a Robson ace to hold in the next game, it was 4-4.

A Kvitova ace gave her a 30/love lead, but Robson got back into the game. When the Czech sailed a shot long, Robson got to break point. After having gone 1-for-10 in BP to start the match, Robson had gone 4-for-4 since. But Kvitova rescued this one with an ace, then gave a bark/scream. Another ace was followed by a clenched fist. After Robson got back to deuce, Kvitova came back strong again and smashed an ace on her second game point to take a 5-4 lead. After falling down 15/30, just two points from defeat, Robson held for 5-5.

Kvitova continued to bounce from one extreme to the other. Committing an error and bouncing her racket on one point, then hitting an ace on the next. A backhand winner that put her up 30/15 in game #11 was followed by DF #16 of the match. After Robson somehow managed to get back one of Kvitova's wide serves into the Ad court, forcing the surprised Czech into an error, the Brit got the break to go up 6-5, with a chance to serve for the match. But, of course, it didn't end there.

In a game of smashing groundstrokes, Kvitova steadied herself with a winner off a drop shot, then followed up with a crosscourt backhand service winner. Two Robson errors got the break back for Kvitova, then she hit yet another ace (#14 in the match), on a second serve, to hold one game later for 7-6. After Robson held for 7-7, Kvitova opened game #15 with DF #17, and fell behind love/30. But, again, she bounced back. Power groundstrokes got her back to even, then, after arguing with the chair umpire that an overturned call at 30/30 on a serve that hit the line should have given her an ace (and a GP), Kvitova flubbed an easy volley and was suddenly down break point. Kvitova saved it, then used a big wide serve to hold for 8-7. After an easy Robson hold, Kvitova clubbed in aces #15, #16 and #17 to hold for 9-8.

After double-faulting (#18) and falling down love/30, Kvitova got back to 30/30, but a bad wide backhand shot put her break point down. Robson smashed a return winner off a Kvitova second serve to get the break for 10-9 and a second opportunity to serve out the match.

Now it was Robson's time to surge. And she was the one who surged last.

She opened game #20 of the 3rd set with an ace, her 13th of the match. Two more big first serves got her to triple match point, and another produced a wide Kvitova return to give the 18-year old Brit a 2-6/6-3/11-9 victory in a three-hour battle that gives her victories over three different former grand slam winners (w/ Clijsters and Li at the U.S. Open) in her last two slam appearances.

Kvitova walks away as, still, at times, both one of the most exhilarating and THE most frustrating player on the WTA tour. Robson heads off into a 3rd Round match with Sloane Stephens, who's already faced and beaten the Brit in a match this season. So, while Robson feels great tonight, she's still got some work ahead of her. Of course, even at so young an age, she's already SORT of experienced at this type of thing.

All right, Laura. Now get some sleep. It's past your bedtime.

=DAY 4 NOTES= day after Day 3's results kept alive the possibility of a "battle for the universe," Sharapova vs. Radwanska semifinal, the same occurred on Day 4 with the other side of the draw's potential Final Four match-up of Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams.

Of course, THAT one would "only" be for the #1 ranking.

Williams, back from rolling her ankle in her 1st Round match, played somewhat tentatively in the early-going of her 2nd Rounder with six-foot Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. Seemingly trying to test out her ankle, as well as not put any undue stress on it and turn a minor injury into a more serious one, Serena dropped two games in the 1st set and failed to match Sharapova's AO start with back-to-back 6-0-/6-0 wins at this slam. But Serena got more confident as the match progressed, and while Muguruza had chances to stay close on the scoreboard, Williams still managed to win seventeen of the Spainard's nineteen game points on the day. Serena won 6-2/6-0 to run her career record in slam 2nd Round matches to 48-1 (the only time she's lost in this round was in Melbourne in 1998, as a 16-year old to her sister Venus). She was hardly in "top" form on Thursday, but she didn't need to be spectacular to win this one, and likely won't for a few more rounds, either. Still, she felt well enough to stick with her scheduled doubles match later in the day with Venus (they won), so that's a good sign that Serena didn't suffer any setbacks or worrisome swelling after her singles match.

Earlier, Vika Azarenka, with the memory of her wobbly (literally) heat-related loss to Serena in Melbourne a few years still probably in the back of her mind, had gotten the chance to begin her 2nd Round match at 11 a.m., thereby missing out on the oppressive Aussie heat that would arrive later in the day on what was the hottest afternoon of this slam so far. After playing a somewhat tight 2nd set against Monica Niculescu two days ago, the world #1 seemed to approach her match with veteran Eleni Daniilidou like her entire world depended on it. As a result, the intense Vika of last January was back, as were the clenched fists and the I-want-to-step-on-someone's-neck-and-grind-them-into-the-ground looks on her face. After seeing the other legit contenders for HER Australian Open women's championship title put up a slew of bagels... err, melons... on the scoreboard the last few days, Azarenka put up some great early-round numbers of her own, winning 6-1/6-0 in fifty-seven minutes. It's a scoreline that resembles many of her matches last year in Melbourne, when she ran roughshod over so many first week opponents.

It looks like Vika is ready to try to defend her title. In other words, she won't be scheduling any pedicures between now and late next week.

...the youngest player in the draw, 16-year old Donna Vekic, lost her 2nd Round match to Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday, but the oldest player in the women's draw, 42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm, notched a straight sets win over Shahar Peer. In the 1st Round, KDK had already become the oldest woman to ever win a MD match at the Australian Open.

...Awards updates: with the likes of Madison Keys and Jamie Hampton reaching their career-first slam Final 32's, and Sloane Stephens continuing to rise with another in hers, the Bannerettes take the "Revelation Ladies" honors for this Aussie Open. Meanwhile, with Svetlana Kuznetsova (though, of course, hers was hardly an "upset," per se), Elena Vesnina and Valeria Savinykh taking out three seeded players, and qualifiers Savinykh (2 wins) and Daria Gavrilova (1) getting main draw victories, the Hordettes win the early-round "Upset Queens" award. This is the fourth straight year that the Russians have been named the AO "UQ's," by the way.

...the "Last Qualifier Standing" contenders are now down to two. After Savinykh advanced to the 3rd Round yesterday, she was joined today by Lesia Tsurenko, who defeated fellow qualifier Gavrilova to reach the Final 32. doubles action, while the Williams Sisters won, the Chan sisters were knocked out by the team of Llagostera-Vives & Zheng. Elsewhere, Sam Stosur, at least for one round, prevented her AO from being a total disaster, as she and Julia Goerges won their 1st Round match over Daniela Hantuchova & Anabel Medina-Garrigues.

...DAY 4 "LIKES":

Vika, resplendent in her gold dress on Thursday. Of course, shorts -- in a tribute to her own Aussie one year ago -- would have been even better.

-- on Tennis Channel, Lindsay Davenport's note about one of Serena's superstitions -- that she has to shake hands with the chair umpire before her opponent. Davenport said that Williams often goes so far as to walk diagonally to the net after the match, making sure she can wait just below the umpire's feet so that she can shake her opponent's hand, then quickly around and shake the umpire's hand first.

...and, finally...

=EARLY-ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rounds (Days 1-4)=
TOP PLAYER: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...24-0 in games, she's off to the best start at a slam by any woman since 1985. Of course, as she's noted herself, that "0" will mean nothing in any of the other matches she'll play in Melbourne. Her lack of match play, and competition, could come back to get her yet, if she doesn't watch out. Hmmm, sort of like The Radwanska.
RISERS: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL & Elena Vesnina/RUS
...A-Rad still has more titles (2) than sets lost (0) in 2013. Meanwhile, Vesnina, to her great credit, didn't let her head get lost in the clouds just days after finally winning her first career title in Hobart in her seventh career final.
SURPRISES: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR & Valeria Savinykh/RUS
...the last two qualifiers remaining in the draw.
VETERANS: Serena Williams/USA & Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN
...even on one leg, for the most part, Serena has still won 20 of 22 games since she rolled her ankle. KDK, 42, has become the oldest AO women's match winner. Twice.
COMEBACKS: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...down of late, but not out. They look to be on a collision course to meet for a berth in the Final 8.
FRESH FACES Bannerettes & Brits
...both groups have lamented the dearth of young stars as recently as a season or two ago. But success breeds success, as one young player's run in the spotlight inspires other similarly-aged potential stars from her country. It happened with the Russians nearly a decade ago, and it's surely happening with the Americans. Every slam, a few more names are added to the "first (insert appropriate round) in her slam career" discussion. This AO it's Madison Keys and Jamie Hampton. Sloane Stephens still looking for her own career-best major (she needs two more wins), but this is already her best AO. Meanwhile, one slam after Laura Robson's NYC breakthrough, Heather Watson saved three match points to advance to the 3rd Round in Melbourne, matching her best-ever slam result. Oh, yeah, and Laura Robson has once again demanded the spotlight by upsetting a former grand slam champion on one of the grandest stages of the world.
DOWN: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Nadia Petrova/RUS
...Stosur's flame-out was expected. But there was some hope at the end of 2012 that Nadia had found the formula for late-career success with Ricardo Sanchez as coach. Ummm, check that. Sanchez is gone, and so in Petrova. It's always SOMETHING. Oh, Nadia.

"I think sometimes what you don't know can't hurt you." - Serena Williams

"..." - The Radwanska, so far

[through 2nd Rd.]
13-7...Russia (Kirilenko,Kuznetsova,Makarova,Savinykh,Sharapova,Vesnina)
11-6...United States (Hampton,Keys,Stephens,S.Williams,V.Williams)
7-1...Serbia (Ivanovic,Jankovic,Jovanovski)
5-1...Japan (Date-Krumm,Morita)
5-2...China (Li,Zheng)
5-3...Germany (Goerges,Kerber)
5-6...France (Bartoli)
4-0...Belguim (Flipkens,Wickmayer)
4-0...Great Britain (Robson,Watson)
3-1...Belarus (Azarenka)
3-5...Romania (Cirstea)
3-6...Spain (Suarez-Navarro)
2-0...Denmark (Wozniacki)
2-1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
2-1...Ukraine (Tsurenko)
2-4...Italy (Vinci)
[no players left in draw]
5-7 = CZE
2-3 = TPE
2-4 = SVK
2-5 = KAZ
1-2 = POR
1-3 = CRO
1-7 = AUS
0-2 = NED,SWE
0-3 = HUN

2006 Italy
2007 Belarus
2008 Poland
2009 Kazakhstan
2010 Germany
2011 Czech Republic
2012 Germany
2013 United States

2004 Hungary
2005 Russia
2006 Spain
2007 Czech Republic
2008 Russia
2009 France
2010 Russia
2011 Russia
2012 Russia
2013 Russia

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Lesia Tsurenko/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #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 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 QUALIFIER STANDING: L.Tsurenko/UKR and V.Savinykh/RUS in 3rd Rd.
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Madison Keys/USA (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: #9 Samantha Stosur (2nd Rd.)
IT: Nominees: M.Keys, L.Robson
CRASH & BURN: Nominees: #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); #9 Stosur (up 5-2 in 3rd vs. J.Zheng, served for match at 5-2 and 5-4)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #10 C.Wozniacki (down 3-0 in the 3rd set vs. Lisicki in 1st Rd.; had lost back-to-back 1st Rd. slam matches); J.Zheng (down 5-2, and two breaks, in 3rd set vs. Stosur in 2nd Rd.); H.Watson (down set and a break, saved 3 MP vs. Pervak in 2nd Rd.
LADY OF THE EVENING: Early Nominee: L.Robson

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

Petra..... Up 3-0 in the 3rd. She looked so unsettled throughout the match. What a match with so many UEs. Those 2 were not going to pass the quarter in those forms anyway. I think Petra earned her first slam too fast too soon, couldn't hold on to her consistency, couldn't hold on to the pressure, couldn't hold on to her own mental game...... Probably need some more time to build upon, perhaps a few years like sharapova won her first major.

Mmm a quarter match up between good friends caro and vika? Interesting, think caro actually has the leads in head to head.

Playing giants venus will actually tell how good sharapova is now. As vika said in her interview, everyone seems to be in good form, it will be interesting.

Madison keys may have a good chance against Kerber I feel. Ni la should be through. And I won't bet against aga!

Thu Jan 17, 09:11:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, Wozniacki leads the head-to-head 4-2, though her last win (in their last meeting) was in Indian Wells in '11 when Vika retired after three games. You have to go back to Tokyo '10 for their match that went to match point, with Caro winning in three tight sets.

In an odd way, I was almost "encouraged" by Kvitova's play (well, not all the DF, though she made up for most of them w/ aces), even though she lost. She got through so many tough mental patches in that match when she could have packed it in, but came back strong and won a slew of big points in tight situations with her serve. Yeah, Robson surged last and took the match, but after Kvitova began last season blowing break point after break point shot in the AO vs. Sharapova, there's at least something to "chew on" after this one.

Thu Jan 17, 01:02:00 PM EST  

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