Wednesday, January 15, 2014

AO 3 - SuperSam Rules the Rod

As it turned out, The Pironkova was no Radwanska. And Sam Stosur barely resembled herself, either. And in the case of the latter, that was a very good thing.

With Stosur, never at her best in a pressure situation back home, appearing on Rod Laver Arena in a featured night match, it was quite simple to expect the worst, especially after the disappointing results by Aussies there the past two nights. When we last saw the #17 seed in a slam, she was being upset in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open by 17-year old Vicky Duval. Throw in Pironkova, always a threat to knock off a seeded player at a slam, with the last time we saw her before this AO coming when she knocked off three Top 10 players during her eight-wins-in-eight-days maiden title run in Sydney, and a Rock-the-Rod night seemed quite possible.

That didn't seem like a good thing for Sam.

But, in fact, it was Stosur who surely rocked it on Wednesday night, looking about as good as she, well, ever has at the Australian Open, obliterating the Bulgarian 6-2/6-0 (yes, Sam bageled her opponent to end the match... it's not a typo) in one hour and eight minutes, overpowering Pironkova with a 23-5 advantage in winners and winning 83% (20/24) of her first serves. Granted, Pironkova was likely a bit worn out after last week, played with a strap on her thigh, and was looked at by trainers after the 1st set. But, so what? We sort of know all that was in the discussion before the match, but it was still easy to think/fear that Stosur would live up (or, more accurately, down) to expectations.

Sam's no Tomic. At least she wasn't on Night 3.

On Night 3, she was more elusive than a bad reputation, more powerful than a pessimistic opinion, and able to leap a skinny Bulgarian in a single bound. On the court, her name was worthy of being written in the sky... she wasn't a downed bird, she wasn't a plane already on its way out of Australia. Nope, instead... she was SuperSam.

Wonders never cease.

...meanwhile, The Pironkova slips back into the shadows. Who knows when, or if, "The Weeping Angel" will be seen again.

...earlier in the day, with on-court temperatures nearing 117-degrees (but not nearly as lethal as yesterday, thanks to a forgiving cloud cover), #4 seed Li Na took to the court in her latest attempt to review the 2013 junior season.

In the 1st Round, she took out the youngest player in the draw, 16-year old Ana Konjuh, the #2-ranked junior and winner of last year's girls Australian and U.S. Open titles. Today, she faced the draw's second-youngeest player, 16-year old Belinda Bencic, the #1-ranked junior and winner of last year's girls Roland Garros and Wimbledon crowns. So, if you combined the ages of both her opponents at this AO, they'd be only one year older than than the 31-year old Li.

Bencic took a while to get used to the big stage of Laver, as well as the occasion. Even being able to challenge a call was a first-time experience for what has to be the first 16-year old Swiss teen to play there since Martina Hingis won her maiden slam title in Melbourne in 1997. THAT Sweet Sixteen season ultimately included three slam wins for the Swiss Miss, whose mother, Melanie Molitor, is now serving as Bencic's coach.

Li won the opening seven games of the match, but Bencic got her feet under her in the 2nd set. She got breaks of Li's serve for 2-1 and 4-3 advantages, only to give back the break a game later on both occasions. Later, she hit as ace to send the set to a tie-break, where the two were knotted at 5-5 before Li finally pulled ahead to win the 6-0/7-6(5) match.

After the match, Li favorably compared Bencic to Hingis, so it's safe to say she made a good impression.

...Serena Williams followed Li onto Laver, and fifteen games later she shook hands at the net with Vesna Dolonc, moving forward in the draw after having upped her career slam 2nd Round record to 52-1.

Is it possible for Serena to look even more unbeatable than usual?

...elsewhere, we got our answer to what is always THE question when a player pulls off a big upset: Can she follow it up with another victory? For Thailand's Lusika Kumkhum, who knocked out #6 Petra Kvitova on Day 1, the answer was "no." She didn't bow out ungracefully, though, as it took three close sets for Mona Barthel to end her run with a 4-6/6-3/6-4 victory.

Sabine Lisicki never did seem to get a handle on the unorthodox, underhand slice forehand-heavy game of Swarmette Monica Niculescu. The German had ten aces, and led the Romanian 43-8 in winners. But she had a 56-18 disadvantage in errors. Some could surely be attributed to Niculescu's style, but not all of them. Of course, this is nothing new for Lisicki when she plays anywhere other than Wimbledon. The Romanian eliminated the #15 seed 2-6/6-2/6-2.

...while Italy was a "Nation of Poor Souls" in the 1st Round, one of them did not belong to Flavia Pennetta. It still doesn't, either, as the #28-seed took out Monica Puig in straight sets on Day 3.

Two days after #18 Kirsten Flipkens was the first woman to advance to the 2nd Round, the Waffle lost to Aussie wild card Casey Dellacqua 6-3/6-0. In a scene reminiscent of Dellacqua's surprise run to the AO Round of 16 in 2008, her mother and grandmother could be seen celebrating in the crowd.

The woman who just missed out to Flipkens when it came to getting this AO's "First Victory," Karolina Pliskova, put up quite a battle with #31 Daniela Hantuchova, but it was the Slovak vet who ultimately prevailed. In the tournament's longest women's match so far, Hantuchova won 6-3/3-6/12-10 in 3:15, finally converting on her fifth match point. After previously going three sets in her 1st Round win over Heather Watson, Hantuchova will now get... Serena. the quarter of the draw that is seemingly destined to produce a player who'll face Williams (well, unless Stosur morphs into Andy Murray by then... she IS half-way there, after all) in the QF, the big potential match-up down the road has been Eugenie Bouchard vs. Madison Keys. One player held up her end of that potential today, but the other didn't.

Against Virginie Razzano, Bouchard, the world's top-ranked teenager, had to battle against being forced to three sets by the veteran Pastry. The Canadian had three match points at 5-4 in the 2nd, but failed on those, as well as three more in the proceeding tie-break. Meanwhile, she had to save two Razzano set points. Finally, Bouchard converted on MP #7 to win the TB 12-10, and the match 6-2/7-6(10).

Keys wasn't so fortunate, but she surely wasn't wanting for opportunities to advance.

After struggling to put away her 1st Round match against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Keys had to erase a 4-1 1st set deficit against veteran Chinese Zheng Jie. The Bannerette served for the set at 5-4 and 6-5, but couldn't put it in her back pocket. Zheng went on to win the tie-break, but Keys easily took the 2nd set to force a 3rd. There, it was Keys who took a 4-1, two-break lead and seemed to be coasting to the 3rd Round.

But you can never coast against the wily Zheng. She never gave up, while Keys gradually wilted down the stretch. With the double-break lead erased, Keys was forced to hold serve at 5-4 to stay in the match. She did, finding herself at 5-5 in the 3rd for a second straight round at this AO. Having to hold again to stay alive at 6-5, Keys wasn't up to the task. Zheng won 7-6(5)/1-6/7-5 to put an end to any talk of Bouchard/Keys in Melbourne.

With the way the draw has played out, a quarterfinalist will result from a group of four that includes unseeded Zheng (an AO semifinalist in 2010), wild card Dellacqua, #30 Bouchard and unseeded Lauren Davis.

...only four qualifiers advanced out of the 1st Round, and three of them -- Bencic, Lucie Hradecka & Alla Kudryavtseva -- lost today. Only Zarina Diyas (vs. Marina Erakovic) remains to play on Day 4, so the "Last Qualifier Standing" could end up being shared by all four woman. That'd be the most since qualifiers went 0-5 in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon in 2007.

Dellacqua's win keeps her in play for both "Last Wild Card Standing" and "Last Aussie Standing," and that's saying something in a week of weather that might have put many on their back (or coughing up the contents of their stomach, ala Peng Shuai). Aussies Stosur and Jarmila Gajdosova (a WC, she plays tomorrow) are also in the mix. At least one of those three have won or shared every "LAS" honor, save for when Jelena Dokic reached the QF in '09, since I began tracking such things in 2008. Speaking of The Fair One... doubles, if you blinked you missed her, but Dokic DID make her official 2014 tour debut, teaming with fellow Aussie Storm Sanders. The pair lost 6-4/6-4 to Magdalena Rybarikova & Stefanie Voegele. Still, at step forward is a step forward.

...meanwhile, Vika was off today. But she'll be back...

So, more "dancing on a frying pan" for her on Day 4 (and, of course, that could end up referring to the hot court surface... or another in-match dance by Vika with the Service Devil who appears so often on her dance card these days).

...DAY 3 "LIKE":

the priceless look on Bencic's proud face when she challenged a call -- and was successful -- in the first game of her match with Li, converting on the very replay challenge attempt of her career.


Bannerette Alison Riske's reaction -- "woo-hoo!" -- when she was told that her win today meant that she would crack the Top 50 rankings for the first time in her career

...DAY 3 "Ah, memories":

hearing ESPN2's Pam Shriver say Yanina Wickmayer's name multiple times during a broadcast can't help but stir memories of the boos she received from the crowd following her a-little-too-incredulous uttering of "Wick-mayer" during an on-court interview with Caroline Wozniacki at the U.S. Open in 2009, when she informed the Dane that the Belgian would be her surprise opponent in her upcoming semifinal match.

...DAY 3 "Hmmm, I g-u-e-s-s that's all right, but I could be wrong":

should there be any question about Paul Annacone, recently hired as the coach of Sloane Stephens, doing commentary on Tennis Channel? While it's not unusual to have the personal coach of a current singles player in the commentary booth, when it's happened recently (with Brad Gilbert, for example) it's generally involved a coach who was already doing commentary work. I don't recall Annacone, who's been good in limited live coverage on TC, doing any TV work before this, though. He made some humorously sly comments today about "the great coaching kicking in" when Stephens came back from a 5-1 1st set deficit yesterday against Yaroslava Shvedova, but, of course, didn't go into any details about what he might be telling her during this tournament.

Of course, since Stephens was working with Annacone in a "trial" arrangement during the offseason and didn't officially hire him for '14 until just before the start of the season, maybe he was just covering his bases and signed on with TC so he knew he'd be getting some work Down Under this month and he's now just fulfilling his end of the deal.

...and, finally, is it too early to already have a favorite for "Tennis Player Photo of the Year?"

53-1...1st Round ['12 RG: Razzano]
52-1...2nd Round ['98 AO: Venus]
44-7...3rd Round
37-7...4th Round
21-3...Semifinals [Venus '00, Henin-H. '03, Clijsters '09]
17-4...Finals [Venus '01, Sharapova '04, Venus '08, Stosur '11]

34...Serena Williams, 2013
32...Justine Henin, 2007-08
26...Victoria Azarenka, 2012
24...SERENA WILLIAMS, 2013-14
24...Justine Henin-Hardenne, 2005

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Cristina Mitu/ROU def. #4 Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER 3-6/6-4/9-7
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #18 Kirsten Flipkens/BEL (def. Laura Robson/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Sara Errani/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Julia Goerges, GER)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st Round; Schiavone out 1st Rd. 5/6 slams)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 2nd Rd.: Bencic/SUI (L), Diyas/KAZ, Hradecka/CZE (L), Kudryavtseva/RUS (L)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 2nd Rd.: Dellacqua/AUS (W), Rogowska/AUS
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: 2nd Rd.: Dellacqua (W), Rogowska, Stosur (W)
IT (TBD): xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: J.Zheng, Dellacqua (singles), Stosur, Ivanovic
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #6 P.Kvitova (lost 1st Rd. to Kumkhum)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #22 E.Makarova (down 3-0 in 3rd vs. Venus/1st Rd.); #2 V.Azarenka (Larsson twice served for 1st set in 1st Rd.); #13 S.Stephens (down 5-1, with Shvedova twice serving for 1st set in 1st Rd.); #31 Hantuchova (goes three sets in both 1st/2nd Rd., wins 12-10 3rd vs. Ka.Pliskova on 5th MP); J.Zheng (2nd Rd., down 4-1 in 3rd vs. M.Keys)
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to (LL) Falconi/USA, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy); 7 con. slam losses; 22 1st Round exits in 47 slams
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: S.Stosur, S.Williams

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

looks like everyone is struggling a bit under the extreme heat today. maria spent 3.5 hours under the sun. a lot of respect for enduring it, though probably was partly her fault in throwing in 12 dfs.

i thought i read it wrong in the match stats of cornet vs giorgi. cornet won the match with 5 winners and 29 errors but giorgi produced an unimaginable 73 errors...err...did anyone see that match?

Thu Jan 16, 01:06:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, that's what the stats say. In fact, 73 of Cornet's 103 total points (only eleven more than Giorgi, despite the big UE advantage) came from the Giorgi error numbers. The Italian also had 12 DF to Cornet's 9.

Like I said the other day, Cornet must be harboring a guardian angel in her tennis bag so far this season. :)

Thu Jan 16, 03:02:00 AM EST  

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