Monday, January 20, 2014

AO 8 - The Uninvited Guest Strikes Again

Victoria Azarenka, Melbourne's "uninvited guest," continues to eat the Australian Open out of house and home. She just can't help herself.

On Day 8, in a rematch of last year's controversial semifinal, the Belarusian was simply, wonderfully gluttonous.

One year after "VikaGate" attempted to turn the 2012 (and, soon, 2013) AO champion into "international public enemy #1" after she followed doctors and trainers advice to leave the court during a medical timeout during her semifinal match against Sloane Stephens, the two players met again today in the Round of 16. One day after the upset of Serena Williams, and mere minutes after the exit of Maria Sharapova, some of the antagonistic air -- from both the media and the Aussie fans -- that was expected to swirl around this match was lessened due to the departure of such high-profile contenders. There was simply too much actual tennis news to talk about, so attempting to recap old or rekindle new controversy wasn't necessary to fill air time.

* - Not that there wasn't a game attempt, as reports about Stephens, who shares an agent with Azarenka and is often in the same city as Vika, were pumped out like clockwork over the last twenty-four hours about how, when asked what her relationship with Vika was, Sloane had said "nonexistent," while Azarenka's response to a query about what she'd learned from last year's match was, quite simply, "nothing." While the answers were succinct, honest, and likely not meant to stir, it wasn't difficult to infer that the intent of the reporting was to inject some subliminal reminders into the mix that Azarenka was somehow "bad" and/or unworthy of support. No mention was made of how Stephens at one time constantly referred to Serena Williams in interviews as her "good friend Serena," then publicly criticized her months later for not making the effort to be her friend. It would have ruined the pre-game script.

But while the notion of a "cheating" Azarenka, as well as any outward animosity from the Aussie fans in attendance at Laver Arena, was somewhat put aside, it wasn't forgotten. The vestiges of the attacks on Azarenka's character, both last year and in 2012's "Whack-a-Vika" campaign when she was suddenly and publicly raked over the coals for making the same on-court noises she had for years, her image as an "unliked" champion, as well as the never-won-a-title-nor-been-to-a-final Stephens' role as the great American hope (at least in the eyes of one four-lettered U.S.-based sports network), was never far away from being quickly referenced if the circumstances "called" for it.

* - As the match is about to being, ESPN2's Brad Gilbert talks about how Stephens "should have had a chance to win" the semifinal a year ago against Azarenka. You know, the match that Vika handily led 6-1/5-3 and held five match points before a brief spurt by the American, and a nervous game from the Belarusian, late in the 2nd set severely disrupted the memory of many concerning the contest which had been dominated throughout by the defending champion. Yeah, that one. Moments later, Gilbert shakes his head disgustedly and says, "don't get me started" when asked by host Chris McKendry about Azarenka's medical timeout(s) from last year's match. Then everything is thrown to match commentators Chris Fowler and Chris Evert, the latter of which said two days ago that Azarenka's timeout had occurred "when Sloane was leading the match."

As play began, Azarenka managed to open the match by holding serve, and she didn't face a break point while doing it, either. It's a good sign for Vika, considering her slow-starting service games have led to her facing break points in each of her opening games (and being broken once) in her previous three matches in Melbourne, and the biggest obstacle that she's faced -- other than Serena -- in her recent slam runs has been an instability when it comes to consistently holding serve.

* - On ESPN2, Evert harps on the key to the match being a quick start from Stephens, noting her slow starts at this AO... but not mentioning how Stephens blew a 3-0 -- and point for 4-0 -- lead in the 3RD SET against Ajla Tomljanovic and soon saw the Croat serving for the match in the 2nd Round. Additional on-air commentary centers on what Sloane can do to win the match, what Sloane has learned since last year, what Sloane ate for breakfast today to make sure she had the energy to perform at her best, and how some have called what Azarenka did to Sloane last year "legalized cheating." (All right, I made up the third one there... but you get the idea.) There is no mention of Azarenka winning back-to-back AO titles, appearing in four straight hard court slam finals, winning seventeen straight matches in Melbourne or going 29-2 in the last five Australian and U.S. Opens.

At 1-1, an Azarenka double-fault put her behind 15/30, but she was still able to easily hold by managing to pull out a pair of unreturnable serves. One game later, she broke Stephens' serve to take a 3-1 lead.

* - Evert, with an unmistakable sigh, notes how Azarenka appears focused, and has so far been able to control the flow of the points in the match.

While managing to fairly easily hold serve in the 1st set, Vika was still somewhat deviled by her every-present double-faults. In game #5, on game point, she committed what was already her fourth of the set. With the score 30/30...

* - Evert notes that Sloane is "two points from evening up" the match, and hopes that Sloane doesn't get down on herself.

Stephens managed to get her first -- and only -- break point chance of the game (and set) in the game, but Azarenka held on her third GP for 4-1.

* - Evert notes that Sloane is feeling the pressure, even though she'd said on Saturday that Stephens would "no longer have any pressure" since she was facing a higher-ranked opponent in Azarenka. With the 1st set slipping away, and Stephens often appearing tentative and uninterested, Evert notes how she injured her left wrist in Perth and didn't have much preparation for the Australian Open. Obviously, it was apparent that excuses were going to be necessary in short order.

One game later, Azarenka took a 40/love lead on Stephens' serve. The American played a good point to save the first...

* - Evert praises Stephens' "good anticipation."

...of what would eventually be six break points. After a ten-minute service game, Stephens held for 4-2, but was quite obviously struggling with an in-form Azarenka. Pretty much, it was the same thing that happened in last year's semifinal.

* - A reluctant Evert says that while Sharapova faltered after the exit of Williams, and other top players might under the circumstances, as well, it doesn't look as if Azarenka will do the same. After seeing the Belarusian make several forays to the net, Evert and Fowler note how confident she looks. Compared with Stephens' demeanor across the net, it should be asked, how could Azarenka NOT?

In game #7, Stephens hit Azarenka as she set up to return a volley, with the hard-struck ball making its way past her racket and arms to strike her directly in the abdomen/groin. Stephens attempted to apologize, but Vika simply turned her back and spent the rest of the match barely looking directly at her opponent. Two points later, a reflex volley off Azarenka's racket managed to fly directly at Stephens' head. Sloane ducked, then flashed a you-got-me smile and applauded the notion of Vika being Vika... even if she wasn't even intentionally trying to be. She just can't help it.

Azarenka held for 5-2, then two games later, after another double-fault put her behind 15/30, held to close out the set at 6-3. With a 104-1 record in her last 105 matches in which she won the opening set, Vika was now in control. Stephens knew it, too. The American opened the 2nd set by wildly spraying forehands and quickly giving up a service break to fall behind 1-0. Azarenka held a break point two games later, but Stephens avoided an even deeper deficit and held for 2-1.

* - On ESPN2, the "it's now or never" refrain begins. "Make it happen, Sloane!," encouraged Evert, as she and Fowler attempt to dissect the 20-year old's in-match mood, as if this moment was akin to Serena Williams when she appears to be somewhere else in a match, only to suddenly and ferociously rise up and seize control of things after pulling off one huge shot, or throwing in a primal scream or two. Nevermind the fact that Stephens has in no way earned such inspection, nor the attached anticipation that something great could still be coming around the corner. One day, she might. But not yet. A crestfallen Evert says that Sloane has "the pressure of the world on her shoulders."

Immediately afterward, Azarenka held to take a 3-1 lead.

* - ESPN2 puts up a graphic showing the three-peat AO women's champions of the Open era, noting that Azarenka is trying to become the first in fifteen years. Uninitiated viewers, in unison, are stunned to learn that Vika is the two-time defending champion of the event, considering this is the first time in what seems like days since it's been mentioned on the network, and the very first time in the lead-up and match coverage of this encounter with Stephens. Obviously, even ESPN has given up on Stephens at this point. Moments later, watching Sloane listlessly walk around the court, not even celebrating a winner, Evert says she thinks that Stephens might not be "heavily invested in this match," and that she isn't "sure she wants to get out of the hole" she's in. And the 18-time grand slam winner's heart shrank three sizes that game.

In game #5, a frustrated Stephens bent over at the waist and screamed after an error, then held for 3-2.

* - Evert reverses course, finally happy that Sloane let out the tension. Sometimes, that's all you need, she says. Once again, she has hope that things will turn around. Fowler begins to recount the medical timeout controversy, noting how Azarenka isn't well-liked in Australia and that Stephens could get the crowd on her side if she'd do something. Anything, really. It won't be difficult to get them to root against her, he notes.

Without the need for a scream, Azarenka answered with a hold for 4-2.

* - ESPN2 shifts to the end of the Jankovic/Halep match. After a winner is determined, Pam Shriver throws it back to Fowler and Evert with, "Let's see what happens with Sloane."

In game #7, Azarenka held break points on Stephens' serve at 40/15. Her crisp groundstrokes pushed Stephens off the right side of the court, then Vika swatted a forehand winner to break for 5-2. A game later, serving for a straight sets win just as she did against Stephens a year ago, Azarenka threw in a double-fault to make the score 30/30. Stephens got a break point, but this time Vika didn't lose her mind at the thought of winning... showing that she DID actually learn something from the '13 match, even if she didn't have reason to learn anything from any bogus controversies that might have come about after it was over. With the finish line in sight, she used her groundstrokes to swing Stephens from one side of the baseline to the other, then moved in and sent a forehand down the line to get to deuce. She then fired an ace to reach match point. One Stephens forehand error later, and it was over. One year after allowing just five games to Stephens in the semifinals, Vika allowed five once again in a 6-3/6-2 win.

And, just like that, Vika had scarfed down another impromptu AO meal after wandering from the assigned guest quarters to the kitchen in the main house. She might still be "uninvited"... but she doesn't look like she's going anywhere anytime soon.

* - Two days late -- or maybe it's eight? -- McKendry and Gilbert wrap up the match coverage by noting Azarenka's long winning streak (now 18 matches) in Melbourne, calling her the "overwhelming favorite" to take the title. Later, Fowler notes that she's "an even bigger favorite now than she was at the start of the day." And the transformation is complete. ESPN and its merry band of fact-deniers have finally realized that there's a two-time defending champion in the draw who -- even when you factor in Serena -- is the best hard court player in the world, and is now just two wins away from reaching a fifth straight hard court slam final. The last players to do that? Martina Hingis, who reached seven from 1997-00, and Monica Seles with five from 1991-93.

All in all, not a bad day.

* - Aaaaand.... scene.

=DAY 8 NOTES= the first Round of 16 match on Laver on Monday, Maria Sharapova attempted to take advantage of a suddenly Serena-less draw (even if she'd have to actually reach the final, and go through Azarenka on hard court, for it to matter to her... not that anyone on ESPN2 pointed out that salient fact, mind you). Problem was, this AO has actually become more of a potentially career-bolstering event for her Slovakian opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, than it's ever seemed to be for the Russian, who has dragged herself through this AO draw as if she was an old coat that was left to fade in the sun.

Cibulkova had actually spent only a few more minutes on court in her three previous matches combined than Sharapova had in her 2nd Rounder against Karin Knapp alone. In truth, Sharapova's draining three and a half hour battle with the Italian in Extreme Heat conditions pretty much stamped an expiration date on the Russian's forehead for this slam. And the date was today. You could sort of seeing it coming before the first ball was struck.

In the early going, though, Sharapova seemed like she'd be fine on Day 8. She opened the match with a break of serve, then held off two Cibulkova break points to hold for 3-1. She failed to serve out the set at 5-2, getting broken at love, but it didn't matter when the Slovak double-faulted on set point #2 to give the 1st to Sharapova at 6-3.

But then Sharapova went off court for a medical timeout, having trainers look at an upper leg, or possibly hip, injury. When she returned, she simply wasn't right. Cibulkova quickly grabbed a two-break lead, then continued to pounce on the Russian's second serve to go up three breaks at 5-0. But Sharapova, being who she is, and with her obviously knowing that if she didn't get out of this match in the 2nd she might not get out of it at all, didn't give up. Cibulkova, known in the past for often pushing top players but not being able to put them away, obliged Sharapova by failing to hold serve while twice trying to close out the set as the score closed to 5-4. But in her third try, Cibulkova whacked a winner, then saw back-to-back errors from Sharapova put her up 40/love. She held for 6-4, making Sharapova's efforts to get back into the set essentially a waste of her limited time.

In the 3rd, Cibulkova opened with another break of Sharapova's serve, then used her point-extending abilities to spend the rest of the match exploiting Sharapova's hampered movement, dragging her from side to side in rallies that almost always went the Slovak's way. The Russian saved a break point to hold for 2-1, but Cibulkova got the double-break lead two games leader on the back of a series of big shots that had allowed her to outhit the hard-hitting former AO champion for the majority of the day. As Sharapova served to stay in the match and extend yet another set in game #7, Cibulkova broke her again, ending things with a backhand winner down the line to win 3-6/6-4/6-1 and reach her first career AO quarterfinal.

The Slovak has now reached the Final Eight in all four of the grand slam events. the 4th Round match that took place at the same time as Azarenka/Stephens, Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep faced off for the chance to meet Cibulkova in the QF and, theoretically, suddenly have a golden chance to compete for a slam semifinal berth. Halep broke JJ's serve for a 5-4 lead in the 1st, then held to take the set. Jankovic turned things around in the 2nd, getting a break for a 3-1 lead and setting off a stretch of four breaks of serve in the final five games of the set, with the Serb getting the last when she broke Halep for a third straight time to win 6-2.

But things turned in a bad way for Queen Chaos in the 3rd. Serving first, she endured a 16-point game in which she failed to convert two game points, ran out of replay challenges for the match and then saw Halep break her serve. From there, and we've surely seen this before, Jankovic's game went off the rails, as she yelled at whoever was unlucky enough to be in the player's box and generally spun out of control in very Jankovician fashion until the match was over. She never won another game, with the Swarmette winning 6-4/2-6/6-0 to advance to her first career slam QF and likely secure her maiden Top 10 ranking at the end of this AO. She'll be the first Romanian to debut in the Top 10 since Irina Spirlea back in 1996, and only the third Romanian woman (w/ Virginia Ruzici '79) to ever do it. the nightcap, Aga Radwanska took on Garbine Muguruza, just the sort of power player who often gives her trouble. And, wow, was the 1st set a strange one. In her first two service games, Radwanska had a devil -- no relation to The Rad... I don't think -- of a time holding serve. Because of the superior length of her two service holds, it took nearly twenty-five minutes to complete the first three games of the match and head to the first scheduled changeover.

With so much effort, and with the Spaniard crushing many of Aga's second serves and finding flaming winners flying off her racket, it was easy to see a scenario where the Pole, as she often does against big hitters, putting pressure on herself to try to go for too much on too many of her shots in order to balance out the power deficiency, leading to more unforced errors than her game can support, and a frustratingly quick exit (but, hopefully, a sporting handshake at the net) coming as a result.

But that's not what happened here.

Maybe it would have happened against a more experienced player than the 20-year old Muguruza, but in this match what happened was that Radwanska instead began to mix up her shots, opening up her bag of tricks and pulling out all the spins and such that we've come to know and love. Here, she also found ways to drag out the rallies and then work her way into the net to put away some important volleys. That's precisely what she did on a break point in game #4 on Muguruza's serve, and the volley winner that resulted gave A-Rad a 3-1 lead that seemed to take away a little of the Spaniard's heart for the remainder of the set.

Don't worry, Garbi... you're not the first that Aga has made feel that way, and you won't be the last, either.

Radwanska quickly finished off the set at 6-1 without facing another break point. On ESPN2, Pam Shriver called the deceiving-on-the-scoreboard set the "best tennis she's seen on the women's side this year," once again proving why she's become my favorite commentator when it comes to Aga matches. It took a while, but Pammy now "gets" Radwanska... and she isn't afraid to let it show.

In the 2nd set, Radwanska didn't have to endure the sort of marathon service games that began the night. In game #3, Aga held at love and put away an ace to keep things on serve at 2-2. A game later, Radwanska broke the Spaniard's serve, and another A-Rad hold at love followed right after that to make it 4-2. Muguruza had one final shot to get into the match when she reached break point at 4-3. But the Spaniard sailed a backhand return of serve wide on one set point, then hooked a forehand on a second. Radwanska held for 5-3.

Muguruza saved two match points a game later, but netted a forehand on a third. Radwanska won 6-1/6-3, and will face her longtime foe -- and conqueror -- Vika Azarenka in the quarterfinals.

Going in, there was a slight thought that this Aga/Garbi match-up might turn out to be a little bit unfair, what with Muguruza's power advantage and all.

Ah, silly Backspinner. I was right about the match being a bit unfair... but it was Muguruza who was on the short end of the equation. Aga simply outsmarted her. It was as simple as that.

Oh, well. Hopefully, the Spaniard, who finally started to begin to rediscover her game in the (too late) closing moments of the match, will learn something from this. doubles, singles quarterfinalist Eugenie Bouchard was scheduled to play both doubles and mixed matches today. As it turned out, she and Vera Dushevina lost their Round of 16 match to Cara Black & Sania Mirza, and then she and Sam Groth pulled out of the Mixed. So, she got a little bit of practice... but won't be too tired to be 100% in the match tomorrow against AnaIvo.

Elsewhere in Mixed, Kristina Mladenovic & Daniel Nestor vs Lisa Raymond & Mariusz Fyrstenberg in the 2nd Round, advancing to the QF along with defending AO champions Jarmila Gajdosova & Matthew Ebden, who defeated #7-seeded Kveta Peschke & Marcin Matkowski.

With the women's doubles QF set, as well as six of the final eight teams in the mixed, there are four woman -- Gajdosova, Andrea Hlavackova, Sania Mirza and Katarina Srebotnik -- still alive in both draws.

Meanwhile, there was a big upset in the men's doubles as the top-seeded Bryan twins were ousted in the Round of 16 by Eric Butorac & Raven Klaasen. junior AO action, #3 seeded Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina was upset by Aussie Kimberly Birrell.

...elsewhere, wrapping up some non-AO Week 3 details, Hordette Varvara Flink, the #1 girls seed in Melbourne, warmed up last week Down Under by taking the title at the Grade 1 Traralgon International, defeating Pastry Fiona Ferro in the final.

And on the ITF circuit, much like in Melbourne, it was a week in which Canadians shined. In a $25K in Port St. Lucie, Florida, 16-year old Francoise Abanda won her first professional title by defeating her 27-year old countrywoman Heidi El Tabakh in straight sets in the final. Both had reached the main draw after successfully making their way through qualifying. But it didn't end there, as a Canadian (Khristina Blajkovitch) shared a doubles title at the $10K Saint Martin Guadeloupe challenger, while another (Sonja Molnar) was the singles runner-up in the same event.

And, while she's not from Canada, how can I not make the season's first mention of Reka-Luca Jani? The Hungarian won the doubles title (w/ Irina Khromacheva) in Port St. Lucie. So...

Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani!

Ah, now my head is clear.

...Ah, back when so much was still in front of her...

...DAY 8 "LIKE":

really, do I actually need to even point it out? But, if I have to, I'll go with something that didn't happen during the match. It happened afterward, as the indefatigable Vika continued to court the Australian people. Interviewed on court by Rennae Stubbs, Azarenka once again talked about how much she loves playing this tournament, and how she feels that playing on Laver is like being at home on her couch "eating chips and salsa."

Stubbs handed her the opportunity to attempt to sidle up to the Aussies even more by mentioning how, with Redfoo serving an "X-Factor" judge on Australian TV, Azarenka got to spend some time in Australia that had nothing to do with playing tennis. Vika talked of enjoying the beaches, the Australian people and how she wouldn't mind getting a house there some day. Actually, she said that Redfoo had said that they should get a place, which caused Stubbs to point on that he hasn't given her any engagement ring yet. If he does, though, Vika joked, "It'd better be bigger than Caro's."

Hmmm, she might need an extra finger to wear it if that's the case. Although, I'm sure Redfoo has some Motown inheritance money coming his way at some point... he could get her an eleventh finger, too, I suppose.

Not sure if the crowd was buying what she was selling, but, much like at the Open in the past when she's been given a microphone, you've got to give Vika an "A" for trying. Who knows, maybe one day, after Vika has virtually corned the market on silver (as in championship cups) somewhere down the line, the Australian people will finally see fit to like her... and maybe even put a ring on it.

...and, finally, wow, impressive performance from Roger Federer against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. So, I guess that mean's it'll be Fed and Stefan Edberg against Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl in the quarterfinals. Of course, Rafa Nadal -- who defeated Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang tonight -- is still at the top of the draw, while Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker are anchored in the bottom.

Seriously, how great would it be if more of the great women's players who able to be thrown into the discussion of today's game like that? And, no, what I did with Evert at the start of this recap doesn't count.

#14 Ana Ivanovic/SRB vs. #30 Eugenie Bouchard/CAN
#4 Li Na/CHN vs. #28 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#11 Simona Halep/ROU vs. #20 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
#5 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL vs. #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #22 Grigor Dimitrov/BUL
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #6 Roger Federer/SUI
#7 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. #3 David Ferrer/ESP
#8 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB

#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. #6 Black/Mirza (ZIM/IND)
#4 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO) vs. Gajdosova/Tomljanovic (AUS/CRO)
#7 Hlavackova/Safarova (CZE/CZE) vs. #3 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
#8 Kops-Jones/Spears (USA/USA) vs. Peer/Soler-Espinosa (ISR/ESP)

Butorac/Klaasen (USA/RSA) vs. Huey/Inglot (PHI/GBR)
Bolt/Whittington (AUS/AUS) vs. #8 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)
Mirnyi/Youzhny (BLR/RUS) vs. #14 Kubot/Lindstedt (POL/SWE)
#5 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) vs. #13 Llodra/Mahut (FRA/FRA)

#1 Groenefeld/Peya (GER/AUT) vs. J.Zheng/Lipsky (CHN/USA)
#5 Medina-Garrigues/Soares (ESP/BRA) def. Spears/Inglot (USA/GBR)
Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) def. #3 Raymond/Fyrstenberg (USA/POL)
Hantuchova/Paes (SVK/IND) def. #8 Vesnina/Bhupathi (RUS/IND)
#6 Mirza/Tecau (IND/ROU) def. An.Rodionova/Fleming (AUS/GBR)
Goerges/Qureshi (GER/PAK) vs. #4 Hlavackova/Mirnyi (CZE/BLR)
Gajdosova/Ebden (AUS/AUS) def. #7 Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL)
#2 Srebotnik/Bopanna (SLO/IND) def. Barty/Peers (AUS/AUS)

[by career slam QF]
12...Victoria Azarenka
10...Li Na
10...Agnieszka Radwanska
7...Ana Ivanovic
5...Flavia Pennetta
4...Dominika Cibulkova
1...Eugenie Bouchard
1...Simona Halep
[by career AO QF]
5...Agnieszka Radwanska
4...Victoria Azarenka
4...Li Na
2...Ana Ivanovic
1...Eugenie Bouchard
1...Dominika Cibulkova
1...Simona Halep
1...Flavia Pennetta
[Consecutive slam QF]
3...Li Na
2...Victoria Azarenka
2...Flavia Pennetta
[Consecutive AO QF]
4...Agnieszka Radwanska
3...Victoria Azarenka
2...Li Na
[WTA most career slam QF - active]
37...Serena Williams
33...Venus Williams
20...Maria Sharapova
14...Svetlana Kuznetsova
10...LI NA
9...Nadia Petrova
8...Jelena Jankovic
7...Petra Kvitova
7...Francesca Schiavone
[WTA most slam QF since 2010 - active]
9...Serena Williams
8...LI NA
7...Petra Kvitova
7...Maria Sharapova
[Players w/ "Career QF Slam" - active]
Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (completed Career QF Slam at this AO)
Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
Ana Ivanovic, SRB
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Li Na, CHN
Nadia Petrova, RUS
Francesca Schiavone, ITA
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Serena Williams, USA
Venus Williams, USA
Vera Zvonareva, RUS

2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2013 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2014 Li Na, CHN

[by slam; matches lost]
AO: 13-5 (98 Spirlea,99 Testud,01 Hingis,13 Stephens,14 Ivanovic)
RG: 10-8 (98 ASV,99 MJF,01 Capriati,03 Henin,04 Capriati,09 Kuznetsova,10 Stosur,12 Razzano)
WI: 13-3 (01 Capriati,07 Henin,13 Lisicki)
US: 9-3 (98 Spirlea,04 Capriati,06 Mauresmo)

[since Azarenka won AO/to #1 in January '12]
AO - Azarenka
Madrid - S.Williams
Rome - Sharapova
RG - Sharapova
WI - S.Williams
Olympics - S.Williams
US - S.Williams
WTA - S.Williams
Brisbane (Sharapova w/d from MD) - S.Williams
AO - Azarenka
Doha - Azarenka
Miami (Azarenka w/d from MD) - S.Williams
Madrid - S.Williams
Rome - S.Williams
RG - S.Williams
Cincinnati - Azarenka
Brisbane - S.Williams
AO - ????

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
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): 2nd Rd. - #3 Maria Sharapova/RUS def. Karin Knapp/ITA 6-3/4-6/10-8
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 WILD CARD STANDING: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (4th Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: D.Cibulkova, S.Halep
IT (TBD): Nominees: E.Bouchard, S.Halep
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: A.Ivanovic, F.Pennetta
CRASH & BURN: #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE (lost 1st Rd. to world #88 Luksika Kumkhum; worst slam result since losing 1st Rd. at '11 U.S. Open following Wimbledon title run)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #4 Li Na/CHN (3rd Rd. - saved MP vs. Safarova)
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: A.Ivanovic, V.Azarenka

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha! That felt a little like the old La Petit Taureau "defense lawyer" days. :D

Mon Jan 20, 08:14:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Is it conceivable that a not-so-recent graduate could still qualify to be Backspin Academy's head cheerleader? I mean, she's really wants it.

Mon Jan 20, 10:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

I really don't know what to think of Abanda playing ITF, especially as a qualifier, instead of the junior Australian Open. It ended up fine, but it was a risky decision.

I somehow have the impression that monetary issues were taken into consideration here. Apparently, Tennis Canada and Abanda decided to focus more on the pro tour than the juniors because of her frequent injuries. I'm a bit sceptical of the reason they give.

Who do you think will be the better-ranked player between Halep, Bouchard and Stephens by the end of the year? (I'm going with Halep.)

Mon Jan 20, 01:01:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Hmmm... one would have to possess enough trust to stand on top of QC's back as the cheer team builds a pyramid during timeouts, knowing full well that she could just stand up and start twirling without warning at any given moment. So... good health insurance is a must. :)

Of course, the Cheer Squad Supervisor position is currently available for this year's Yearbook. ;)

Zidane -

Hmmm, yeah, I don't know what the financial situation regarding the long trip to Australia might be for her/them, ether. But I looked at both the girls and boys AO draws -- singles and doubles -- and there were no Canadians included in any of them. Maybe it was a collective federation decision determined by finances to hold them all out (and they just don't want to publicly say that)?

With what we've seen so far, I'm sticking with what I said in the preseason:

1) Halep the highest-ranked; Top 10
2) Bouchard somewhere just outside that, maybe #14-20; wins 1-2 small titles
3) Stephens in the Top 20, but with no titles (but, finally -- late in the season -- getting to her first final)

Mon Jan 20, 01:41:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

I think all the espn commentators should be fired. What they do is unfair to other players and equally bad for US players. They should not be praised for what they have not yet achieved. I frankly don't like sloane much the same way as to caro. Sloane knows she is good but uses too much of her charm. I don't Serena was cheering for vika. Haha.

Yes todd, a very familiar style to writing Justine. I love it. I love this version of vika so far too, honestly I had a bit of hard time sticking to her last year after doha.

From the 3, I like bouchard's potential. Good game and most importantly a bit feisty on court. ;). Second Halep, one of the best all court players I have seen. Last, sloane, not until she wins an actual tournament. But from ranking, Halep most definitely.

Mon Jan 20, 04:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

YEAH! No blame for me! (The Belieber needs to improve that second serve!)

Mon Jan 20, 11:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger Hoergren said...

A new star Bouchard. Do we have Genie of the lamp as a gentle - yet - alternate to the you know who? Anyway a pleasant surprise and well played match by Bouchard. I like the tradition with a new toy after each win - nice :)

Mon Jan 20, 11:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Haha! Yeah, I might have to fastforward those predictions by about a year for Bouchard... she's running way ahead of the curve now.

Oh, did you hear the groan in the arena when she said Bieber? Maybe the first misstep she's made! :D

Mon Jan 20, 11:29:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

They should give her a Bieber teddy bear next time she wins! (Well, next year I guess.)

Her 2014 goal was to make the top 20. She already has to set herself a new objective.

Mon Jan 20, 11:57:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Wow, SF on debut. didn't realize that.

Tue Jan 21, 12:35:00 AM EST  

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