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Thursday, January 19, 2017

AO 4.5 - A (Dasha) Show Fit for an Encore

Hmmm, this is starting to feel a little bit familar. Almost as if we've been here before. Maybe because we have.



As "The Dasha Show" returned for a second 2017 installment in Melbourne, this time in the form of a 2nd Round match-up between Dasha Gavrilova and Ana Konjuh, the sense was that the Aussie might not be able to construct the same sort of happy ending against the recent U.S. Open quarterfinalist from Croatia as she had so often in her 4-1 stretch in AO play over the past two seasons. I know I sort of felt that Konjuh's bigger game and lingering '16 big stage experience (which she's employed do decisively vs. Kiki Mladenovic in the 1st Round) would likely get the best of Gavrilova in a Hisense Arena match which started late in the day and extended into the evening.

Hmmm. "The Dasha Show" in primetime. I guess I should have known.

While 22-year old Gavrilova played her game of scrambling defense, long rallies and stoking-the-crowd waves of emotion, Konjuh often found herself bedeviled on Thursday night. Sometimes it was by Gavrilova's efforts to more her around the court, sideways and to the net, as she tried to exploit her movement and make her hit two or three extra shots in a rally and cause her tactical thinking to go haywire, but it was also because the 19-year old herself had difficulties corralling her power long enough to execute a successful plan of attack.

Gavrilova's chances of another AO victory were apparent in the 1st set, as Konjuh had difficulty stringing successively effective shots together. The Aussie broke for a 4-2 lead, and the show was off and running. The familiar rhythm and excitement of '16 were back, even with Dasha being a seeded "favorite" this time around rather than the surprise contender of a year ago. Gavrilova saved a BP and held for 5-2, then saw Konjuh double-fault a game later (her third DF, and 18th UE in the set) to hand Dasha a SP at 15/40. Gavrilova grabbed the set when the Croat misfired with her 19th UE, dropping the set on the back of that stat and a frightening 41% First Serve Percentage.

Konjuh managed to finally find her range in the 2nd set, powering through Gavrilova and dominating the stanza after breaking the Aussie in game #1, then saving BP a game later to hold for 2-0. Finally rattled and made emotional (she began whacking her racket on the court quite often after losing points), Gavrilova double-faulted to break herself and fall behind 4-1. Konjuh's 1st set errors became winners (12, in fact) in the 2nd, as she upped her First Serve Percentage to 61% and won going away, 6-1. Gavrilova hit just one winner in the set.

Both players had had difficulty holding serve into the early stages of the 3rd set. Gavrilova broke to open things there, only to drop serve a game later, then get the break back in game #3. Through the first eighteen games the two combined for ten breaks of serve. But down the stretch, both held on tightly to their all-important service games. In the final seven games there were seven straight holds, though most were hardly easy tasks.

Konjuh's bad, flat-footed volley on a low ball allowed Gavrilova to hold for 4-2. But it was the Aussie's service stint in game #8 that proved to be the most important in the match. She jumped to a 30/love lead, but Konjuh surged back with a crushed return and mid-rally backhand to get things to 30/30. But then the Croat flubbed a backhand on a pace-reducing, high-bouncing ball from Gavrilova, handing the Aussie a GP. It wouldn't be her last. She'd have three more, while she'd have to fight off two BP, as well. Finally, Konjuh's renewed inconsistency proved to be too much, as her 3rd set error total climbed of 24. Then Gavrilova smacked an ace to hold for 5-3, then skipped to the changeover area as the Aussie crowd cheered her on all over again.

Konjuh managed to hold at love, but a game later Gavrilova's net cord plopper and a Konjuh error put the Aussie at double MP at 40/15. She fired a forehand out of reach of Konjuh at the baseline, finishing off the 6-2/1-6/6-4 victory in 2:01. While Gavrilova had just 14 winners compared to the more free-hitting Konjuh's 34 on the night, her 25 UE were dwarfed by the Croat's total of 56.

So, "The Dasha Show" continues in this its second season, renewed for at least another round in Melbourne, where #12-seeded Timea Bacsinszky will be welcomed as a guest star in what could very well be another three-setter high on long rallies and excitable drama. So far at this AO, Gavrilova has kept the histrionic emotional moments to a minimum (their overabundance foretold her collapse in the Round of 16 last January), while holding firm to a game plan that seeks to highlight the defense and persistent "twitchiness" that fuels her game.



Once again, it's not a bad show, and one that has proven to be fit for a nice encore Down Under.



=NIGHT 4 NOTES=
...on the two main show courts, the #2 seed continued to prove that challenges don't bother her, they simply make her lift her game to the level necessary to win, while a short distance away on another court, the #3 seed was simply hit off the court.

When Serena Williams' potentially ornery draw in Melbourne was announced, it was clear that we'd get a good value judgment on her AO form right out of the slam gate. And she knew she'd need to be focused and on point, too. Which probably isn't great news for the rest of the field. Saying, "When I play players like Bencic and Safarova, they force me to play better," Williams added a tenth win in ten career meetings with Lucie Safarova on Thursday night with 6-3/6-4 win over the Czech who'd scrambled to save nine MP a round earlier just to set up this match on Laver.



As is her wont, Serena fine-tuned her game when it was appropriate throughout the night, saving three BP in game #5 to hold for a 3-2 lead, then breaking Safarova a game later en route to taking the set. In the 2nd, she saved BP again -- naturally, with a shocking-but-not-really-shocking second serve ace -- and held for 3-3, then grabbed a break advantage one game later. Serving for the match, after failing to convert on two MP, Williams won one of the best rallies of the entire match.



Oh, Nicole Gibbs. You're great at all, but I'm sure not so you're going to want much of what Serena has to offer two days from now.

...on MCA, #3 Aga Radwanska saw her 2017 AO stay -- and her over sixteen-month run in the Top 5, as well -- come to an unceremonious end, as 34-year old Croatian vet Mirjana Lucic-Baroni advanced to her seventh career slam 3rd Round with a comprehensive 6-3/6-2 win over the Pole.



Lucic systematically took down Radwanska, breaking her whenever she needed to, including when Aga was serving to just stay in the set in game #9 of the 1st. After dropping serve early in the 2nd, she immediately got the break back a game later and then continued to bum-rush Radwanska out of Melbourne, ultimately winning six of the final seven games of the match as Radwanska has still yet to fully find her form in this young '17 season, as she's now 6-3 with crushing losses at the hands of Lucic and Konta, as well as a love 3rd set defeat vs. Riske, and a shaky, MPs-saved win over Duan.

Aga came into this AO having reached the semifinals two of the last three years, posting QF-or-better results six times since 2008, and having had a run of six consecutive years in which she reached at least the Round of 16 . She exits with her worst result in Melbourne since a 1st Round upset (K.Bondarenko) in 2009. Lucic-Baroni hadn't won a MD match in the AO since 1998 until a few days ago, having come out on the other end of an ugly familial story that saw her lose nearly a decade of her tennis career after she'd reached the SW19 semis at age 17 in 1999.

The Croat will next face 21-year old Greek Maria Sakkari, whose exciting presence will endure into a major 3rd Round for the first time after her three-set victory over #28 Alize Cornet. The match took place on Court 7, which I have to say is one of the more unique looking courts at all the slams, with an especially great, not-harshly-lit appearance in the evening. With covered areas on either side, and an extended ground-level walking area for fans around the court's edge (Sakkari seemed to hover around the area for forever after the match, signing autographs and posing for selfies, even taking phones from fans and snapping many of the shots herself), it has something of the intimate look of a tennis club, or small indoor arena. It sort of reminded me a little of the old Court 1 at Wimbledon, and I now want to watch another match there. Just to see the court at night.


(Another interesting thing I noticed -- how incredibly close the changeover area chairs' backs are to the wall separating the court and the fans. One has to wonder about the safety issues, but it has to make the fans there feel like they've got seats right behind the bench at a basketball game.)

As a result of all the upsets, we're assured of one QF slot being filled by either #14 Elena Vesnina (less than a year after her Wimbledon semi, so the Top 10 could be close), qualifier Jen Brady, Sakkari or Lucic.





SUDDEN REALIZATION FROM NIGHT 4: Quite obviously, Serena no longer qualifies as "presidential" material.




CHAKVETADZE SIGHTING FROM NIGHT 4: And a great one, too (celebrating Denis Istomin's upset win over Novak Djokovic).



AND YOU JUST HAD TO KNOW ON NIGHT 4: ...that THIS was happening in the stands during a Gavrilova match.







*WOMEN'S FINAL 32 - BY NATION*
6...USA (Brady,Gibbs,Riske,Vandeweghe,S.Williams,V.Williams)
3...CZE (Ka.Pliskova,Kr.Pliskova,Strycova)
4...RUS (Kuznetsova,Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova,Vesnina)
2...AUS (Barty,Gavrilova)
2...GER (Barthel,Kerber)
2...LAT (Ostapenko,Sevastova)
1...CAN (Bouchard)
1...CHN (Duan)
1...CRO (Lucic-Baroni)
1...DEN (Wozniacki)
1...ESP (Muguruza)
1...FRA (Garcia)
1...GBR (Konta)
1...GRE (Sakkari)
1...ROU (Cirstea)
1...SRB (Jankovic)
1...SUI (Bacsinszky)
1...SVK (Cibulkova)
1...UKR (Svitolina)

**AO "EARLY-ROUND TOP PLAYER" WINNERS**
2002 (Week 1 POW) Martina Hingis, SUI
2003 (Week 1 POW) Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 (Week 1 co-POW) Kim Clijsters, BEL & Justine Henin, BEL *
2005 (Week 1 POW) Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2006 (Week 1 POW) Amelie Mauresmo, FRA *
2007 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS *
2009 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Kim Clijsters, BEL *
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR *
2013 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN
2016 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
--
* - won title


*RECENT SLAM SEED EXITS BY ROUNDS*
=2016=
AO: 12 1st Round / 6 2nd Round
RG: 9 1st Round / 2 2nd Round
WI: 3 1st Round / 11 2nd Round
US: 9 1st Round / 4 2nd Round
=2017=
AO: 7 1st Round / 7 2nd Round





All for Night 4. More tomorrow.

AO.4 - Two Pliskovas Are Better Than One

As if anyone really had any doubt, we can now officially add a second Pliskova to the Melbourne 3rd Round recipe. It's almost as if prophecy foretold it.

And, in a way, I guess it did.

Seven years ago, as the Australian Open Twitter feed reminded us on this Throwback Thursday in Melbourne, Karolina Pliskova won the Australian Open girls singles title at age 17. At the moment, the 24-year old looks as if her mind is set on taking home an even more impressive title less than two weeks from now.



Emboldened by her U.S. Open final run last summer, during which she transformed over two weeks in New York City from your "typical" slam underachieving Czech into a hard-nosed, don't-get-in-her-way stone cold slam killer -- taking out TWO Williams Sisters in the same tournament will do that to a Maiden, I guess -- Pliskova has been virtually untouchable in '17, opening the year in Brisbane by dropping just one of eleven sets, losing more than three games just twice in the ten sets she claimed en route to the title.

Well, so far in Melbourne, Pliskova has actually been even better.

Her 6-0/6-2 win today over Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova was a 6-0/6-2 affair in which she bludgeoned her teenage opponent in a fashion quite similar to the way she handled Sara Sorribes Tormo two days ago in a 6-2/6-0 victory. The win gives Pliskova a 7-0 mark on the season and has her even once more with twin sister Kristyna, who is also still alive in the singles draw and will now face #1 Angelique Kerber, who defeated Karolina in that U.S. Open final last September, in the 3rd Round.

While it IS true that Karolina was fairly well unfazed by the Hordette today, and all sorts of compliments should be thrown her way for her performance in Melbourne thus far, when such a thing is joined in an unholy alliance with the whole blink/Blinkova/eye bit of wordplay that will forever swirl around the young Russian, well, this sort of thing happens...



And I don't think any of us deserve that, do we?

(Well, at least not until Friday.)



=DAY 4 NOTES=
...most of the matches that took place on Day 4 were scheduled match-ups that had potential for a little drama, but turned out in reality to have very little. Probably the first match up on Laver was the best example.

The day opened with #9 seed Johanna Konta, a semifinalist a year ago, maintaining her great early '17 form with a 6-4/6-2 win over Naomi Osaka, whose power and star potential had made many wonder whether this slam would serve as host to her breakthrough moment. But that'll have to wait. Osaka held her own early, saving two BP in game #5, and the two were knotted at 4-4 in the 1st set. But Konta got the late break and took the set, then never looked back. The Brit has now reeled off seven straight wins on the season, and the recent Sydney champ is 9-1 on the year, having won fourteen straight sets since falling to young Katerina Siniakova in the Shenzhen semis in Week 1.

...in other day session matches on Thursday, Jelena Ostapenko eliminated #31 Yulia Putintseva 6-3/6-1, quite a different result from their previous meeting in Beijing last fall, when the Kazakh won a 7-5 3rd set and put on her regular post-MP celebration show... resulting in her unknowingly being on the wrong end of the Latvian glare that melts the souls of innocent children.




The two didn't engage in too many antics this time around, though Putintseva did complain early on about Ostapenko moving around while she was readying to serve. Ostapenko won eleven of the final twelve games and, in the end, there wasn't a great deal of competition, nor love lost, between the two this time around.



Surely, this is to be continued.

...elsewhere, Sara Errani retired five games into her match with #30 Ekaterina Makarova, whose doubles partner, #14 Elena Vesnina, also advanced with a 3 & 3 victory over Mandy Minella, while #17 Caroline Wozniacki handled Donna Vekic ever more easily, winning 6-1/6-3. #6 Dominika Cibulkova won out over Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4/7-6(8).



#16 Barbora Strycova took out Andrea Petkovic 6-0/7-5, after at first failing to serve out the match at 5-4. Then, after shaking hands with the German, the Czech had one of her "now, let's get this straight" discussions with the chair umpire about a few things. But, eventually, Strycova just gave up trying to get her point across with the usual emphasis when it became quickly apparent that it was going to take longer than it was worth to prove she was correct about the matter.

One of a kind, that one. In a good way.

Strycova has now reached at least the 3rd Round at five of the last six slams, all since she turned 29 in 2015. She'd posted such a result just six times in her first thirty-seven appearances in majors.

...meanwhile, giving Lucie Safarova a mini-run for her money when it comes to "Zombie Queen" honors, qualifier Jen Brady survived a three-set battle with Brit Heather Watson. Faced with the task of serving while behind through the the extended final set, the Bannerette did so quite effectively.

Of course, Watson also had a ton of chances to put the win away. She had two MP at 6-5, only to see Brady secure the hold. She had another MP soon after, then two more on Brady's serve while leading 8-7. Brady held, then Watson missed badly on three forehands and double-faulted once a game later, giving the 21-year old former UCLA player a chance to serve for a berth in her first career slam 3rd Round. Brady did it with relative ease, going up 40/love to extend her point winning streak to eight. Finally, Watson gathered herself and played a bit more aggressively, saving two MP. But, on MP #3, Brady took the initiative and charged the net, putting away a volley winner to secure the victory, 2-6/7-6(3)/10-8.



...one of the best matches, if not THE best, of the day was the all-Pastry battle between #21 Caroline Garcia and Oceane Dodin.

Dodin took an early break lead in the 1st, but when given the opportunity to serve out the set at 5-4, she fell behind 15/40. She saved one BP with a big serve, but double-faulted to put the set back on serve.

In the next game, three points in, Dodin accidentally pulled off an amazing trick shot, lunging for a forehand return and sending it back so off-line that it was barely going to land inside the doubles alley. But the shot was low enough that it caught the top edge of the net post, banked off it, and ricocheted inside the line for a winner. Garcia questioned the legality of the shot, but gave up the losing battle pretty quickly when she was informed -- by the grinning chair umpire -- about what had actually happened, and that it was 100% within the rules. Dodin just had to smile.

Garcia held there, and the two soon went to a tie-break, which Dodin finished off with an ace for a 7-3 win.

But Garcia didn't fold, and instead staged a comeback that saw her take the 2nd set 6-4, then go up a break in the 3rd. Serving at 4-3, Garcia fell behind 15/30, but avoided a slip and held for 5-3, then quickly went up 40/love two games later when serving for the match. She won 6-7(3)/6-4/6-4 to reach her fourth career slam 3rd Round, but second in the last three years in Melbourne.



...meanwhile, the final is set in the Grade 1 Traralgon junior warm-up event, and it's the leaders of both of last season's girls team champions who'll face off.

#5-seeded Iga Swiatek, 15, will play #10-seeded Marta Kostyuk, 14. Swiatek is seeking her second G1 title (Repentigney, CAN in September), while Kostyuk is looking for her first. Girls #16 Swiatek led Poland to the Fed Cup 16s title last year, while #20 Kostyuk was the top player in Ukraine's championship run in the ITF World Junior 14s competition.


CHWALINKSA & SWIATEK

Swiatek and fellow Pole Maja Chwalinska, her doubles partner in the FC 16s, will also contend for the doubles title after upsetting #1 seeds Emily Appleton and Jodi Anna Burrage in the semifinals.



There's quite a full schedule of intriguing matches late on Day 4 in Melbourne, so I'll post something more before the start of play on Day 5 that addresses the goings-on under the lights tonight.

On Laver, Serena Williams undertakes the second part of her nothing-to-sneeze at draw, with Lucie Safarova (who saved 9 MP vs. Yanina Wickmayer in the 1st Round) up next. Williams leads their head-to-head 9-0, but they've only met once since late 2014. They've gone three sets in both their last two meetings.

On MCA, Aga Radwanska takes another turn in primetime, this time against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, two days removed from the Croat getting her first MD win in Melbourne since 1998.

Additionally, on a late-starting match on Hisense, "The Dasha Show" plays out an additional episode order, though with Ana Konjuh playing the antagonist in this one, it might not have the happy ending that so many other Melbourne performances starring Dasha Gavrilova have had the last two years Down Under.





...LIKE ON DAY 4: Study skills for the big test...




...I'M JUST SAYIN' ON DAY 4: It must be nice -- and really strange -- to know that nearly every person that crosses your path will consider those few seconds some of the greatest IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES.




...UNFORTUNATELY, THE NEW NORMAL ON DAY 4: This.




...LIKE ON DAY 4: It was a great shot. Take it on faith.




...LIKE ON DAY 4: V Inc.




...REALIZATION ON DAY 4: The sequel to 2016's "Dasha Show" might just be the "Barty Party." She's set to headline Night 5.




...and, finally... when you're Sveta, I guess your mid-slam training regimen CAN include popcorn, cotton candy and (maybe?) a ride on the ferris wheel.



I'm not sure about the crazy clown entrance, though.










The quickest, most pointless on-court interview ever?








Introducing Wendy and Stardust ??#WeAreAvailable

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on






*AO "REVELATION LADIES" WINNERS*
2006 Italy
2007 Belarus
2008 Poland
2009 Kazakhstan
2010 Germany
2011 Czech Republic
2012 Germany
2013 United States
2014 Romania
2015 France
2016 China
2017 Australia

*AO "LAST WILD CARD STANDING" WINNERS*
2008 Jessica Moore, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic, AUS (QF)
2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
2011 J.Dokic/AUS, C.Garcia/FRA & A.Molik/AUS (2nd)
2012 Casey Dellacqua/AUS & Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd)
2013 Madison Keys, USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua, AUS (4th Rd.)
2015 K-C.Chang/TPE, O.Dodin/FRA & I.Falconi/USA (2nd)
2016 Han Xinyun, CHN (2nd Rd.)
2017 Ash Barty, AUS (in 3rd Rd.)

*RECENT AUSTRALIAN WOMEN IN AO ROUND OF 16*
[since 7-round event in '87]
1987 QF - Elizabeth Smylie
1987 4th Rd. - Janine Tremelling
1987 4th Rd. - Wendy Turnbull
1988 QF - Anne Minter
1989 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
1990 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1991 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1993 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
2003 4th Rd. - Nicole Pratt
2004 4th Rd. - Alicia Molik
2005 QF - Alicia Molik
2006 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2008 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2009 QF - Jelena Dokic
2010 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2015 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2016 4th Rd. - Daria Gavrilova
--
2017: Barty in 3rd Rd., Gavrilova to play 2nd Round



TOP QUALIFIER: Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): x
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): x
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Ons Jabeur/TUN def. Dalila Jakupovic/SRB 2-6/7-6(5)/7-5 (comeback from 6-2/4-1 down)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Safarova/CZE d. Wickmayer/BEL 3-6/7-6(7)/6-1 (saved 9 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): x
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): x
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: x
=============================
FIRST VICTORY: #29 Monica Puig/PUR (def. Tig/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (lost to Rogers/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: Australia
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (First Loss, First Seed Out & two players ranked in Top 32 ousted in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Barthel/GER, Brady/USA
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Ash Barty/AUS (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Barty(W), Fourlis(L), Gavrilova
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: x
IT (??): x
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Barty/AUS, Bouchard/CAN, Jankovic/SRB, Cirstea/ROU, Safarova/CZE
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Safarova (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer); Brady (2nd Rd. - saved 5 MP vs. Watson)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Nominees: Lucic-Baroni/CRO, Jankovic/SRB, Kuznetsova/RUS, V.Williams/USA, Safarova/CZE
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS, Barty/AUS
DOUBLES STAR: x
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: x





All for Day 4. More tomorrow.