Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Australian Open top 10

Here are my top 10 Australian Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Russian return: Svetlana Kuznetsova was forced to take some time off because of an injury, and she described it as more or less a blessing in disguise. The winner of the 2004 U.S. Open and the 2009 French Open had a very nice run in Melbourne, getting as far as the quarterfinals. She lost to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka, but her performance probably gave her some new confidence.

9. Once is good, twice is better: Speaking of Russian returns, Ekaterina Makarova made it to the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Last year's run was perhaps more dramatic, in that Makarova upset Serena Williams. This year, however, she took out both Marion Bartoli and 5th seed Angelique Kerber, which wasn't too shabby, either. Makarova, whose ranking "should be" higher than it is, is at her best in Melbourne.

8. Sometimes, repeating isn't pretty: Most serious tennis fans probably weren't surprised that Samantha Stosur went out in the second round. The Australian star, who was seeded 9th, lost to Zheng Jie. Now, the super-fast Zheng Jie, a former Australian Open semifinalist, is a formidable opponent, and it's hardly shameful to lose to her. But with Stosur, this is a pattern. Last year, she lost to Sorana Cirstea in the first round, and the year before that, when she was seeded 5th, she lost to Petra Kvitova in the third round. Again, no shame, especially considering that 2011 was a huge year for Kvitova. If you watch her play, however, you realize that Stosur just can't handle the pressure of playing in her country. Prior to coming to Melbourne, she went out in the first round in Sydney.

7. Complimentary cream cheese included: 2nd seed Maria Sharapova won her first two rounds 6-0, 6-0.  The only other woman in Australian Open history to win her first two rounds 6-0, 6-0 was Wendy Turnbull, who did so in 1985.

6. Tempest, meet teapot: There was bound to be a lot of discussion about Victoria Azarenka's decision to take a medical timeout in the final stage of her second set against Sloane Stephens in the semifinals. Discussion was merited. But the press--and particularly the Australian press--seized on the event as an opportunity to bash the world number 1 mercilessly. Australian fans don't like Azarenka, so many were quick to join the Smear Vika campaign. Who's screaming now?

5. Unsafe at any speed: Serena Williams has had her share of injuries, to be sure, but at the 2013 Australian Open, she had the worst luck ever. She certainly didn't need more foot problems, but in her first round, she rolled her ankle and experienced some pain. She returned from her medical timeout to beat her opponent 6-0, 6-0, and the good news was that--as always--Williams had taped her ankles before the match. If she hadn't done so, she might have sustained a serious injury. A few days later, Williams accidentally hit herself in the head with her racket. In a press conference, she joked that "I'm done....Just wanted to do two things. Now I got it out of the way." She was wrong. In the second set of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens, Williams went to retrieve a drop shot and her back locked. She was able to go on playing, but her service speed was hampered. She lost that match, and said afterward that "I'm almost relieved that it's over...."

4. The streak is broken in two: 4th seed Agnieszka Radwanska came to the quarterfinals with a 13-match winning streak, two 2013 titles, and the distinction of not having dropped a set this season. For her to lose to Li Na was not a shock, but for the match to go the way it went was indeed a surprise. Everything was in place for an exciting match to be played between two opponents who had a shot at the title, but that isn't what happened. Radwanska appeared to be drained of energy, and Li beat her 7-5, 6-3. The Chinese player would go on to beat 2nd seed Maria Sharapova, but then lose in the final.

3. The student takes on the master: Sloane Stephens grew up with posters of Serena Williams on her bedroom wall. The young American player, who has matured quite a bit in the last several months, considers Williams her tennis idol. But then suddenly, in the semifinals of the Australian Open, Stephens found herself s standing on the opposite side of the net from the player she looks up to the most. She could have caved, as she so often did in the past, but instead, she gave Williams some work to do in the opening set. Williams won that set 6-3, but during the second set, she had back spasms and received treatment. From that time on, the five-time Australian Open champion was forced to slow down her serve. Stephens won the second set 7-5, and she won the match when she took the third set 6-4. Would an uninjured Williams have won? Almost certainly, yes. But that doesn't  take away from the reality that Stephens handled the occasion with determination and maturity. After all, many a player has faded away against an injured Williams, but this player didn't.

2. Forza Italia!: Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the number 1 doubles team in the world, had to face the unseeded Australian team of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua in the final. That meant that the crowd was cheering like crazy for the unseeded underdogs, who--after losing the first set--took it to the Italians. But champions know how to win, and the Fighting Italians are now one Wimbledon victory away from achieving a Career Slam.

1. Oh yes I did!: That's what was prominently displayed on the T-shirt of world number 1 Victoria Azarenka when she showed up to practice on the day of the final. It was the first sign that Azarenka was somehow making peace with the bashing she'd taken from the press following the semifinals. She got even more bashing, from the press and from the crowd, when she competed against Li Na in the final. Li was on fire, and was also the clear crowd favorite. The Chinese star had some misfortune, however, falling down twice, rolling her ankle the first time, and hitting her head the second. Could she have beaten Azarenka if she hadn't hurt her ankle? There's a pretty good chance she could have, if she held her nerve. But in the third set--for whatever reasons--the top seed was able to take control of the match and to defend her 2012 title, and she did it in style. She did it in spite of having a very tough opponent, in spite of enduring a very stressful 48 hours, and in spite of the terrible treatment she received from the crowd. Azarenka also retains her number 1 ranking because of her victory. Talk about playing "within yourself"--Azarenka put on a master class in that.

Australian Open--what they said

I don’t rate my chances. I never look at statistics, I just try and make it happen.
Victoria Azarenka

Did you hit together before you got here?

I think we just warm up together, and that was kind of the thing. "Oh, do you want to hit for 20?" "Oh, okay, well, let's hit." So that was about our training session and preparation for the mixed, so I think we should try that for singles, too.
Jarmila Gajdosova

How did you come together? How did you decide to play?
I chased her up. Back in December I got hold of her number from a secret person, and she was over in America and I just texted her hoping that she would she would be available to play or wanted to play. You know, she's been to the semifinals of other Grand Slams twice with another partner who she sometimes plays with, but he wasn't available so she said, "All right. Let's do it."
Matthew Ebden

Jarka, what went through your mind when you had to step up and serve for the match?
First I always listen to what he says. He's the calming part of my game. And also, he usually tells me where he prefers that I serve so he can help me at the net. So I was mainly waiting for the instruction and I was trying to concentrate to hit a good serve so he can do his Ninja skills on the net.
Jarmila Gajdosova

From everything bad or wrong that happens, I try to take the most positive that happens. In that particular moment you think, "What can I take positive from here?" In the moment you try to stay positive; I guess I’m pretty tough.
Victoria Azarenka

Gajdosova and Ebden win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Australian fans got to enjoy one big victory at the last minute as their countryman and -woman, Matthew Ebden and Jarmila Gajdosova, won the mixed doubles championship in Melbourne. Gajdosova and Ebden defeated Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak 6-3, 7-5.

Both teams were unseeded. In the course of the event Gajdosova and Ebden took out the 2nd and 5th-seeded teams. Earlier in the week, Ebden publicly thanked Margaret Court for the help she has  given him with his game. The 2013 champions are the third all-Australian team to win the mixed doubles title in the Open Era.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Australian Open--what they said

The pressure was there, but I like the pressure, you know. It's interesting. It's very interesting thing. It pushes you to be better. You can take it different way.  You can take it negative and try to, you know, think negative. But I take it as a positive, something that will push me forward to improve, to get better, and the outcome is out of my hands. I just have to be really focused on what I do, very honest with what I do, and that's it.
Victoria Azarenka

Why do you think you fell down?
Because I'm stupid.
Li Na

Being in the player's box is not for someone who lacks nerve.
Pam Shriver

You said the semifinal was a learning experience. What did you learn?

Well, I learned how to talk a lot on TV. Way more than any win I ever got.
Victoria Azarenka

After the match, I was feeling like, How many years I didn't falling down in the court?  I mean, it was amazing today. It was twice on the court even. Maybe like 5% I was falling down again.
Li Na

Azarenka defends Australian Open title and retains top ranking

Top seed Victoria Azarenka had many opponents yesterday in her quest to defend her Australian Open title. The world number 1 had to fight the wind, the sports media, the crowd, and, of course, Li Na. Before the match began, ESPN went to great lengths to set up a black hat/white hat scenario between Azarenka and Li. Commentators took turns talking about how the media and Australian fans consider Azarenka a bad sport because of her ten-minute medical break toward the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens. They went on and on about it, "examining" it from this angle, then that angle.

They had some good fortune, too, in that Li was available to wear the "white hat." Li is a beloved figure. Is there anyone who isn't totally enthralled with her? (If you happen to be the one person who isn't totally enthralled with Li Na, please keep it to yourself.) But just imagine if Agnieszka Radwanska had gotten to the final (something that had seemed quite possible until she faced Li): There's no way the ESPN crew could have set up a hero/villain contrast between Azarenka and and the continually sniping Polish star. But with Li, they were good to go.

Darren Cahill had lost a bet with Judy Murray, so he wore a kilt. He was supposed to wear it throughout the men's final, but he backed out. Over and over, the winner of the bet was referred to as "Andy Murray's mother." She is Andy Murray's mother, and proudly so. But Judy Murray is a tennis personality and authority in her own right, but not once was she acknowledged as anything but a player's mother.

Before I talk about the match (really, I'm going to), I want to say something good about ESPN. That's a rare thing, so bear with me. A study about media attitude toward women's sports that many of you may have seen a year or two ago pointed out how different the metaphors are when commentators and writers refer to male athletes and female athletes. Only the men are called "warriors" and are described using extended warrior metaphor.

ESPN broke that mold in its pre-match production piece, which featured the "defender" and the "contender," and presented a number of lengthy statements made by the players that were all about fighting, battle, warrior mentality, and the destruction of an opponent. Even the music was "warrior-like." I think this was probably a first in women's sports, and it was done really well. Neither Li nor Azarenka appeared passive, "pleasant" or "feminine" in the piece. Rather, each looked like she was ready to kick some ass at any cost.

Right before the match began, Azarenka came out of the tunnel with hoodie on and earphones in, accepted her bouquet, and solemnly walked to the court. There were no dreary "leaving the tunnel" interviews--just Azarenka and Li. When Li stepped onto the court, the crowd went wild, and it would continue to go wild for her throughout the match. Azarenka was given a chilly reception, and that was the kindest crowd response she received until the very end. After all, the Australian crowd disliked her even before the semifinal medical break incident occurred. Several times during the match, chair umpire Alison Lang had to ask the crowd to back off. They cheered Azarenka's unforced errors, and consumed her double faults with unbridled glee. Some hurled insults at her. Only the tossing of rotten fruit was missing from the scenario.

Azarenka chose to receive, and Li immediately double-faulted. Li followed the double-fault with a forehand winner up the line. She was broken, but immediately broke back. The improved forehand was already cracking, and the serve out wide to the ad court--which would benefit Li repeatedly throughout the match--was already in place.   

Li missed an overhead when she attempted to go up 3-1, and was broken. There were then three holds in a row, but none from the "against the wind" end. That wouldn't happen for a long time. Li held at love to go up 5-2. Azarenka then held, and on her next serve, Li went down 0-40 because she repeatedly "over-hit" potential (actually, obvious) winners; she was broken at 15.

On Azarenka's serve, Li hit a forehand cross-court winner to get a set  point, but she hit the next ball long. Azarenka then hit a forehand cross-court winner (her first forehand winner, in fact) to gain an ad point. Li saves it--again with a forehand cross-court winner, but the second set point is saved by a stunning volley from the Azarenka racket. Li got a third set point with a backhand winner, but again hits long. On her fourth set point, Li was able to convert and take the set at 6-4 when Azarenka double-faulted.

The importance of taking the first set off of the world number 1 is well known. When Azarenka wins the first set, she wins the whole thing. She has done this 70 consecutive times.

The second set began like the first, with Li's serve getting broken, despite having a game point. Li then had a break point when Azarenka double-faulted, but she hit a lob long and Azarenka was able to hold. The players then exchanged breaks. Then, serving at 1-3, Li attempted to do a quick change of direction with her feet, fell down, and rolled her ankle. She was examined, then had the ankle wrapped. When she returned to the court, she won the game.

At this point, Azarenka was unable to keep the ball in the court, and went down 0-40. But Li was unable to capitalize on this opportunity, and Azarenka held. The crowd had become quite noisy by this time, and Li complained to the chair umpire about people yelling during a point. In a situation like this, people often say that the complaining player "shouldn't let it get to her," but noise made during a point usually does interfere with a player's concentration, and it's something the umpire should handle before a player has to make a complaint.

Somewhat shaken, Li double-faulted twice in a row, but managed not only to hold her serve, but to break her opponent for 4-all. But then the Chinese player began having trouble with net clearance, and made two unforced errors on her own serve. She was broken, and Azarenka held at love to take the second set 6-4.

In the final set, Li was again broken in her first game, but broke back. Li then held her  next service game, but the players had to take a break because the Australia Day fireworks show had started. During the break, Azarenka chatted with the trainer. And--as if the proceedings weren't already strange enough--when the players returned to the court and began playing, Li fell down again, this time, hitting her head on the hard court.

Li got a brief neuro exam to check for concussion (something Azarenka knows all about), and was cracking up as she had to follow the physio's finger and answer questions to determine her orientation. She returned to the match to face a break point, but held with yet another serve out wide.

Azarenka would go on to argue with the chair umpire about a replay decision, and she would also go on to hold the first service game played from the "bad" end of the court. Li served at 3-5 and Azarenka won the match by converting her first break point on Li's serve. A big part of Li's collapse in form was the trouble she had with her footwork in the second half of the match. Was she consciously or unconsciously guarding her injured ankle? That seems likely, and if she was dealing with nerves, that would have made the situation even worse.

After the players shook hands, Azarenka--instead of falling onto the court (there had probably been enough falling onto the court already) and then celebrating her victory--walked to her seat, sat down, and wept. It had been a very long 48 hours. After a while, she went to her box and greeted her team. Then she returned to the court and acknowledged the crowd, but the acknowledgment was very brief. They had been against her the entire match, and--while they were polite once the match was finished--Azarenka knew there was no point in pushing the issue.

To add insult to injury, Azarenka's trophy was engraved incorrectly, with the abbreviation for Belgium on it instead of the abbreviation for Belarus.

In defeating Li Na, Victoria Azarenka not only defended her Australian Open final; she locked in the number 1 ranking. Li, for her part, is now a two-time Australian Open runner-up. She's playing very well, however, with new finesse in her forehand, and has to be considered a contender at the French Open, a tournament she won in 2011.

Last year, when Azarenka won in Melbourne, I shared the significant parallel between her persona and that of Queen Victoria's. "The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them." Indeed.

Ana Konyuh sweeps Australian Open junior titles

Ana Konyuh of Croatia, the 3rd seed in junior girls competition at the Australian Open, won the singles yesterday when she defeated 2nd seed Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Konyuh, with partner Carol Zhao, had already won the doubles title.

Top seed Aniek Van Koot defeated 2nd seed Sabine Ellerbrock 6-1, 1-6, 7-5 to win the women's wheelchair singles title. With Esther Vergeer absent from the competition, fans were given a rare three-set final.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Defending champion Azarenka to face resurgent Li in Australian Open final

As far as I'm concerned, the upcoming Australian Open women's final is as good a match-up as we could ask for. It's always nice to see a defending champion return to the final, and who better to challenge her than the ever-evolving Li Na? Li, who says she's leaning to be cool "like Hollywood" on the court, is working with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of the great Justine Henin. Henin also had to learn to be cool; in the early part of her career, she was known as a major choker. (She also didn't want to be anywhere near the net, so it's obvious how much influence Rodriguez had on her.)

There has already been talk about whether Li can handle her nerves for two big matches in a row (they were nowhere to be seen when she dominated Maria Sharapova in the semifinals), but now--after Azarenka's obvious bout with anxiety in her own semifinal--it's fair to question whether "old Vika" will make an appearance on Rod Laver Arena.

The Australian Open hard court is ideal for Azarenka's style of play. Hard courts have always been the kindest to Li, also (well, except for that French Open win). The two have played each other nine times, and Azarenka has won five of those contests. More significantly, she has beaten Li in the last four times they have played. Azarenka also leads 4-3 in hard court matches.

Here are the opponents' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Monica Niculescu
round 2--def. Eleni Daniilidou
round 3--def. Jamie Hampton
round of 16--def. Elena Vesnina
quarterfinals--def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
semifinals--def. Sloane Stephens

round 1--def. Sesil Karatantcheva
round 2--def. Olga Govortsova
round 3--def. Sorana Cirstea
round of 16--def. Julia Goerges (18)
quarterfinals--def. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
semifinals--def. Maria Sharapova (2)

An update in mixed doubles: Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden advanced to the final by defeating Yaroslava Shvedova and Denis Istomin. Also advancing to the final were Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak. They defeated Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski.

In the women's wheelchair singles semifinals, top seed Aniek Van Koot defeated Marjolein Buis, and 2nd seed Lucy Shuker defeated Sabine Ellerbrock. Van Koot and partner Jiske Griffioen won the title by defeating Shuker and Buis 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

2nd seed Katerina Siniakova will play 3rd seed Ana Konjuh for the junior girls title. Konjuh and Carol Zhao won the doubles title when they beat Oleksandra Korashvili and Barbora Krejcikova in the final. Zhao and Konjuh were the top seeds.

Errani and Vinci overcome strong challenge to win Australian Open

The Australian Open doubles final had tension and excitement built into it, even before a ball was struck. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the top doubles team in the world--and winners the 2012 French Open and U.S. Open--were contending against a wild card team from Australia. Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua made it to the final by defeating, among others, the seeded teams of Kirilenko/Raymond and Pavlyuchenko/Safarova. The Italians had knocked out Serena and Venus Williams, but there was still work to be done, and the crowd was there to cheer the Australians to a victory.

The first set was a standard Errani/Vinci domination, 6-2. The second set was a different story, however. If you're impressed with 16-year-old Barty's singles game, wait until you see her play doubles. The Australians became much more aggressive in the second set, with Barty hitting hard, sharp groundstrokes and putting on a show at the net that made it really hard to believe that she's only 16 years old. It was a great set for both Australians, and they took it, 6-3.

While Barty and Dellacqua were taking charge, Errani and Vinci were coming a bit unglued. Vinci sent three consecutive backhand volleys into the net, and Errani missed several opportunities to try for winners; she just appeared too hesitant.

The final set was tense at first, and looked as though it might remain so. But the roles reversed, as the Australian team's momentum cooled down, and the Fighting Italians did what champions do--they found a way to prevail. They won that last set 6-2, and now they have only to win Wimbledon to achieve a Career Slam.
Do you think you have a lot of fans watching in China this time?
Maybe. I'm not sure because tomorrow, Saturday, tea time. Yeah, maybe.
Li Na

What did you think when she took the long medical break at the end?
Nothing. It's happened before. I mean, I've had in the last match, the match before, medical breaks, go to the bathroom, the whole showdown.
Sloane Stephens

Li will have to play better than her norm to win. Vika won’t.
Steve Tignor

What do you think are the main differences between Azarenka and Sharapova?
You mean in the games?
I was a little bit worried.
Li Na

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Top seeds in mixed doubles advance to Australian Open semifinals

Here are the four women have reached the Australian Open mixed doubles semifinals: Kveta Peschke (with Marcin Matkowski), Lucie Hradecka (with Frantisek Cermak), Yaroslava Shvedova (with Denis Istomin), and Jarmila Gajdosova (with Matthew Ebden). Peschke and Matkowski are the top seeds.

In women's wheelchair singles, top seed Aniek Van Koot and 2nd seed Sabine Ellerbrock have reached the final. Van Koot had to go three sets in her semifinal against Marjolein Buis. Esther Vergeer is not playing in Melbourne, which "opens up the draw" as in no other event.

In the juniors girls semifinals, Elizaveta Kulichkova will play Ana Konjuh, and Anett Kontaveit will play Katerina Siniakova. Kulichkova is unseeded.

Australian Open--what they said

Rennae Stubbs: Is 30 the new 20?
The truth is, I'm younger than you.
Li Na

She was playing from behind. She isn't used to playing from behind.
Mary Joe Fernandez (referring to Sharapova)

I just had chest pain, like I was having a heart attack or something.
Victoria Azarenka

Start this year, I try to cool down on the court. Yeah. Like Hollywood, you know.
Li Na

With Serena out, do you sort of see this as a missed opportunity?
Absolutely not. I think champions want to face the best.

He's hitting partner, fix the drink and string the racket.
Li Na, on her husband's new non-coaching role

...I almost did the choke of the year right now.
Victoria Azarenka

Sharapova's 2nd serve dead on arrival in Melbourne semifinal

Li Na showed no mercy today in Melbourne when she and Maria Sharapova competed in the Australian Open semifinals. Li has the game to beat just about anybody, but she's prone to making errors when stressed. But today, a calmer Li pushed the 2nd seed around expertly, and murdered the Russian's second serve over and over from both sides of the court.

Known as having a very strong backhand and a weaker forehand, the Chinese star actually has a cracking forehand, but historically, it hasn't always been a reliable shot for her and tends to break down when Li is under pressure. In today's semifinal, though, Li's forehand repeatedly landed in the far corners of the court, out of Sharapova's reach. Li made Sharapova move a lot, too, and the Russian looked frustrated much of the time. Forced to play a defensive role against an opponent who was on fire, Sharapova often looked careless and sluggish.

There was an early foreshadow of Sharapova's shakiness: She double-faulted on the first point of her opening service game. She was broken, and then broken again, as Li went up 4-1. Sharapova broke Li in the sixth game, but she was broken right back, giving Li a 5-2 lead. The Chinese star had no trouble holding serve to take the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Li broke for 3-2, then broke again. She took that set 6-2, also, winning the whole thing on her second match point. Li's serving was excellent throughout, and was a key factor in allowing her to ruthlessly dictate play. Sharapova, on the other hand, got 45 of 69 first serves in, and was successful with 28 of them, but she succeeded with only 6 of 24 second serves. She committed 32 unforced errors, and was able to break Li only once, though she had seven break opportunities.

Prior to playing in the semifinals, Sharapova had dropped only nine games in six matches. 

In the other semifinal, defending champion and top seed Victoria Azarenka beat Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4. The scoreline may sound like the defending champion breezed through a routine match--and she almost did--but the event wasn't without some Azarenka-style drama.

The top seed was was limping a bit in the first set, and was checked by a trainer, though it's unclear exactly what was bothering her. She won that set 6-1, and--no longer limping--looked like she was going to run away with the second set. Stephens couldn't establish a rhythm against Azarenka, and her energy (her psychic energy, at least) appeared depleted. She missed a lot of forehands.

But then things changed. Serving for the match at 5-3, Azarenka began to crumble (think "old Vika"). She blew five match points with forehands that couldn't have been any worse if she were blindfolded. It didn't help that she became increasingly angry with herself with every missed match point. At one point she told someone, presumably in her player box, to "shut up." The defending champion was clearly becoming unhinged.

For her part, Stephens didn't really have to do anything but stand there and watch Azarenka implode. And perhaps because she didn't have to do anything, she didn't seem to grasp the meaning of the occasion. But then, suddenly, it seemed to dawn on her that she had an opening. Stephens woke up at that moment, and proceeded to break Azarenka.

Azarenka then took a medical break. She explained, in her on-court interview, that she couldn't breathe and her chest felt tight. In other words, she was overcome by anxiety, which was kind of obvious. While Azarenka was off the court, taking a medical timeout, Stephens just sat there waiting. When Azarenka returned, she broke Stephens and won the match.

So the defending champion will play the 2011 runner-up in the final. That Azarenka and Li are the last two women standing doesn't surprise me. I'm thinking this final is going to be interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Errani and Vinci advance to Australian Open final

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the top women's doubles seeds at the Australian Open, advanced to the final yesterday when they defeated 4th seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. This could be quite a dramatic final because Errani and Vinci will play Austrralians Ashley Barty and Casey Dellacqua, who are unseeded. Barty and Dellacqua defeated Varvara Lepchenko and Zheng Saisai.

Sloane Stephens upsets Serena Williams in Australian Open quarterfinals

It wasn't that many months ago that Sloane Stephens would crumble during every big moment in a match, and--as a result--she would lose matches she "should" have won. I wondered if and when Stephens would mature enough to close matches, and now I have my answer. The young American has shown, from the beginning of the season, that she has added mental toughness to her already impressive game. Today, in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, she did what few players have done: She looked across the net, saw Serena Williams, and didn't blink.

I'm not going to recount the details of the match. Williams won the first set 6-3, but probably not as easily as she would have liked. During the second set (Which Stephens won 7-5), she stretched out to return a drop shot and her back locked. During this tournament, the world number 3 has twisted her ankle, accidentally hit herself in the face with her racket, and thrown her back out. Brad Gilbert, appearing on ESPN, made a very good point when he said that once you get an injury, over-compensating makes it easy for you to sustain another injury.

Still, we're used to seeing even an injured Williams find a way to make it through a match with a win (again, I can't help but think of the time she had use of only one leg and one hand, yet won the match against a very good opponent). But Williams is older now, and--just as important--Stephens kept a cool head even though she lost the first set, had to deal with a disabled opponent, and also had to wonder what was coming after a frustrated Williams smashed her racket in the early part of the final set.

Stephens acknowledged after the match that after the back spasms began, Williams couldn't serve as fast as usual, but that her serve was still dead-on accurate. Eventually, Williams would (at least mentally) overcome her pain and play like she did in the first set. She broke Stephens at 3-all, and it was easy, at that point, to think "okay, the kid had some fun and did really well, but her tennis idol is about to show her how it's done." But Stephens broke back. The tension was heavy, as Stephens faced a break point in the ninth game. It seemed that all Williams would have to do was serve out the match and then go get some serious treatment.

But Stephens saved the break point. Assured and accurate at the net, as she was the entire match, Stephens used her considerable aggression to hold, and suddenly, before you could say "this set is going to drag out," Williams was broken at 15, and Stephens was in the semifinals.

I find it interesting that no one on television (at least in the USA) has mentioned Sloane Stephens' excellent junior doubles record. She is so comfortable coming forward--today, she was successful 18 of the 20 times she came to the net. She's moving better than she used to, she has a good serve, and she hits volleys with an obvious comfort level we don't always see.

Stephens' opponent in the semifinals will be defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1. The first set was a tight, well-played contest, but then Kuznetsova "went away," and it didn't take much for Azarenka to clean up in the second set. I don't think that Stephens will be blown away by the occasion when she plays Azarenka--I hope she won't be--but she'll have to use that transition game like she never has before if she wants to compete with the world number 1. (One might be tempted to say "Good luck with that.")

As for Williams, who has won the Australian Open five times--you know how a big loss gets her going. She'll be back, and soon. And we can expect great things from her; the season is very young. Serena Williams, idol and mentor, will keep moving toward even more dramatic success than she's already experienced. And as she moves forward on her brilliant path, she may just hear the sound of footsteps behind her.

Australian Open--what they said

That was a stressful match--for everybody.
Chris Evert

I went for this drop shot in the second set, and it (her back) just locked up on me.
Serena Williams

As the number 1 player on the women's side, do you think you should be having at least one night spot or a late afternoon start?
You know what, I don't really care about that. It doesn't bother me. It doesn't, you know, do anything to me. Whenever I play, I play. I just show up to do my job. Night session, day session, I don't mind.
Victoria Azarenka

There will be a changing of the guard.
Chris Evert

I'm almost relieved that it's over.
Serena Williams

I couldn't reach my mom. I called. So I had to call my brother and he couldn't even talk. He was like freaking out.
Sloane Stephens

Has it mattered in the past how well you were going into the match against Serena or not?

No. Obviously not.
Victoria Azarenka

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Li breaks Radwanska's streak

Prior to playing her Australian Open quarterfinal match against Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska had won 13 straight matches in 2013, and hadn't dropped a set. But Li, who has a good record against the Polish star, put an end not only to Radwanska's winning streak, but also to her Australian Open hopes. Playing very aggressively and very steadily against an opponent who appeared drained of energy, Li defeated the 4th seed 7-5, 6-3.

The other quarterfinal played on day 9 was all about Maria Sharapova. She beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2,  and--once again--made quite a statement.Sharapova served very well and hit 22 winners. At the same time, Makarova failed to display the sharp hitting that got her into the quarterfinals. Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008, will play Li in the semifinals. Li was the runner-up in 2011.

The excitement on day 9 was in doubles competition. The Australian team composed of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Varvara Lepchenko and Zheng Saisai upset 7th seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Zheng Jie.

And then there were the top seeds, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Errani and Vinci had the tough task of playing Serena and Venus Williams in a three-set match that included 18 breaks of serve. The Williams team won the first set 6-3. They served for the match twice in the second set, and were broken both times. That set went to a tiebreak, which Errani and Vinci won, 7-1.

The final set was all about breaks of serve. The Williams sisters broke early, the Italians broke right back, then they broke the Williams team again at 3-all. Naturally, Serena and Venus broke back. Then the Italians broke back. They served for the match, but were broken again. When they served for the match a second time, however, the Italians took the set 7-5, and therefore advanced to the semifinals.

The Williams sisters hit 46 winners, but they also made 43 unforced errors. Their timing was off, and Venus had some problems with her serve. By contrast, Errani and Vinci anticipated very well, played aggressively, and were completely in tune with each other in their movement.

Australian Open--what they said

She's like the wall.
Li Na, referring to Agnieszka Radwanska

...I think I wasn't fast enough today. Especially from the beginning of the match, I was really running a lot. It cost me a little too much power in the beginning of the match.
Agnieszka Radwanska

I was like, "Do you know how old I am?"
Li Na, on her coach's insisting she do certain exercises

She was very solid from the beginning of the match.
Agnieszka Radwanska

He said, "I'm tired." I say, "Don't say that. I'm doing exercises, you're only sitting."
Li Na

Monday, January 21, 2013

Passing shots

Sabine Lisicki has hired--crazy drum roll, please--Ricardo Sanchez to be her coach. How long do we think that will last?

Svetlana Kuznetsova has stopped wearing Fila--after all these years--and is now sporting Qiaodan outfits. Along with Kim Clijsters, Kuznetsova was the face of Fila for a very long time.

Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport will play themselves on a new episode of CSI, which airs tomorrow in the USA. Cheesy, but interesting, I suppose.

Martina Navratilova recently played a disgruntled Yelp reviewer on IFC's Portlandia. She received excellent reviews for her performance.

Marija at women's tennis blog always does a great job covering tennis fashion. Here is her Australian Open review.

Here's the math for calculating who can be number 1 in the world after the Australian Open.

Williams to play Stephens in Australian Open quarterfinals

Serena Williams went down 0-40 in her first game against Maria Kirilenko in the Australian Open round of 16, and after that shaky start, the 3rd seed turned into a serving wonder, winning close to two dozen consecutive points on her serve. She defeated Kirilenko 6-2, 6-0, and in doing so, booked a quarterfinal match against protege, pal and practice partner Sloane Stephens.

Against Kirilenko, Williams got 87% of her first serves in, and she won points on 82% of them. She also won with 60% of her second serve. Williams hit 22 winners and made only 6 unforced errors.

Assuming that the next round will be referred to as a "good memory" for Stephens, Williams will face either top seed Victoria Azarenka or Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinals.

Sloane Stephens advances to Australian Open quarterfinals

Sloane Stephens beat Bojana Jovanovski on day 8 the Australian Open round of 16, and I think she may have done it with mirrors. For what it's worth, I probably would have said the same thing about Jovanovski if she had won. This was a match in which the momentum significantly shifted (from a Stephens dominance to a Jovanovski dominance) after the first set, which Stephens won handily, 6-1. The young Serbian player, who like to hit hard from both sides, took charge of things in the second set, which she won 6-3.

Jovanovski went up 3-1 in the third set. Then, serving at 4-5 and break point down, Stephens did something big: She hit her first (and only) ace of the match. Jovanovski got tight and was broken at love, and Stephens successfully served for the match.

It wasn't pretty. Stephens and Jovanovski made 92 unforced errors (Jovanovski made six more than her opponent), and between them, they hit 34 winners. But for all the nerves and sloppiness displayed by the two players, it was Stephens who knew how to close, and that was impressive. Her victory moves Stephens into the top 20, by the way.

World number 1 Victoria Azarenka beat Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-1, and will play Svetllana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.

She's back!

In her press conference, Svetlana Kuznetsova said that having an injury forced her to take some time off, and that time off was what she really needed. Today, in Melbourne, she made a strong comeback statement by advancing to the quarterfinals with a win over Caroline Wozniacki. Same Sveta as always--moving beautifully and producing stunning forehand shots, taking fans to the edge with a bit of a mid-match slump, and effortlessly entertaining throughout her press conrference.

Not surprisingly, the match went to three sets. Kuznetsova took the first one 6-2. Wozniacki picked up her level in the second, while Kuznetsova lost some of her aggression; Wozniacki took that set 6-2.

The third set was tense, and after Wozniacki went up 5-4, Kuznetsova went down 15-30. The Russian veteran held her nerve, hit one of the best forehand shots of the match to even the score at 30-all, and then held her serve.

Kuznetsova broke Wozniacki in the 11th game, and held serve to win the match. She hit 52 winners, and played almost perfectly (and very frequently) at the net. This is the Svetlana Kuznetsova who won the U.S. Open and the French Open with her big all-court game, nimble movement and impressive forehand. Because she has struggled so much with consistency and focus, her name is rarely mentioned these days. It's been a while since the Russian reached a major quarterfinal, and it's nice to have her back.

Credit should go to Wozniacki, who also produced some very good tennis, but once again, just wasn't aggressive enough. It was a high quality, very entertaining match.

Some things never change. Wozniacki argued for a long time with the umpire--as she frequently does--and, as always, the television commentators insisted this was "uncharacteristic" behavior and Wozniacki "never" does this. Personally, I don't care if she argues with the umpire (she has a way to go, though, before she reaches the Rennae Stubbs end of the Arguing with the Umpire Scale); I just get tired of hearing the commentators always say that she never does it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Australian Open--what they said was a close game. I had my chances and I didn't take them. Yeah. I could have won but I didn't. And, yeah, next time.
Caroline Wozniacki

...everybody has specific things in their mind. Some people do tattoos; some don't. I think about tattoos, you have the story of your own tattoos. You can read it, you can think one thing, and I've been doing this for some other reasons. But tattoo is something history of your life, and I believe in it.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

It was user-friendly anger.
Martina Navatilova, referring to Caroline Wozniacki's careful racket toss

What have I ever done to you?
Caroline Wozniacki, to chair umpire

Did you notice anything specific that Azarenka was doing last year that was different in the years
prior when you were beating her fairly consistently?

I think she just got calmer. She's consistent. She works differently. She has different goals, I guess. Yeah, I guess she's just consistent overall. She improve definitely in many shots. But I think it was her head was letting her down all the time before. Some moments she always would go crazy in the match. You would always know. She changed and just became so stable, and, yeah, good hitter.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Makarova does it again

2012 Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova repeated her round of 16 success yesterday by defeating 5th seed Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-4. The 5th seeds looked different from the Kerber who beat Madison Keys in the third round. It turns out that the German star sustained a back injury during the match, which slowed her down and distracted her.

But let's not take anything away from Makarova's performance. She had some dips, to be sure, but when her nerves are under control, the Russian player's free swinging and accuracy are impressive (sounds almost like I'm describing someone from the Czech Republic, doesn't it)? Makarova may be feeling a real sense of deja vu: Her quarterfinal opponent will be Maria Sharapova--just like last year.

There was really little Ana Ivanovic could do to stop 4th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, despite the fact that the former world number 1 gave the crowd some exciting tennis. But Radwanska looked as though she were putting on a "Tennis, Aga-style" clinic, defeating Ivanovic 6-2, 6-4. Radwanska made only four unforced errors, and served two consecutive aces to end the match.

Radwanska is still undeated in 2013. She has won 13 consecutive matches without dropping a set. Will her next opponent, Li Na. The two have played nine times, and Li has won five of those. Li has prevailed 4-1 on hard courts.

6th seed Li defeated Julia Goerges 7-6, 6-1, and 2nd seed Maria Sharapova defeated Kirsten Flipkens 6-0, 6-1. Li hit 16 winners and and made 16 unforced errors. Sharapova struggled a bit along the way, and didn't appear to have the same control that she displayed in the three previous matches, but one "bad" day probably doesn't mean too much.

Makarova was successful in doubles, too. She and Elena Vesnina, the 4th seeds, advanced to the quarterfiinals. Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci advanced, too, with a win over Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai. The Williams sisters defeated 5th seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik, and the Spanish team of Silvia Soler-Espinosa beat 6th seeds Liezel Huber and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Huber, with partner Max Mirnyi, did win her mixed doubles match, against Cara Black and Paul Hanley. Black and Huber, of course, once played together on a very successful doubles team, but their split was far from amicable.

Defending champions Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau were taken out in the fist round by Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak.

Australian Open--what they said

Did you go into the match feeling anything, or did it happen...
I actually feel it, yeah, like two, three days. So I was thinking it will be maybe not too bad, but in the first set I, yeah, was feeling that and it was actually worse and worse. Also I take, yeah, the treatment. But it was not too good.
Angelique Kerber

With the performance you showed in all these matches, do you think maybe in small parts of your heart you're unstoppable?
Well, I think no one is unstoppable, to be honest. This is sport; this is tennis.
Agnieszka Radwanska

On television today the commentator said you were playing the best tennis of your life.
Well, last year when I beat Serena, they asked me the same question. So I think I played already a lot of matches with this tennis. I really happy that I beat Kerber today because I lost three times last year against her.
Ekaterina Makarova

I actually love coming to tournaments. You practice less and just go and play matches. It's like the best case scenario.
Maria Sharapova
After the first set, I think she was a breakdown little bit in the mind.
Li Na

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Russians under the radar

It's no secret that Maria Sharapova is romping through the early rounds of the Australian Open, but what isn't being talked about that much is that four of her countrywomen have joined her in the round of 16. 2013 Hobart champion Elena Vesnina beat Caroline Carcia, Varvara Lepchenko and Roberta Vinci to get to the final 16. Not bad. Of course, her reward is to play world number 1 Victoria Azarenka.

Ekaterina Makarova, a quarterfinalist last year, is also still in the draw. Makarova will face 5th seed Angelique Kerber in the round of 16, and I'm expecting three sets. The Russian is very comfortable on the Melbourne surface and has handled the heat well in the past.

Maria Kirilenko played over 2 1/2 hours against Yanina Wickmayer, and emerged the winner,  7-6, 6-3. The longer Kirilenko stays in the draw, the more I like it because I enjoy her game so much. She's seeded 14th this year, which is a good indicator of how good her 2012 season was. However....Kirilenko's next opponent will be Serena Williams. (A quotation from Vika Azarenka comes to mind, but you know about that.)

Finally there's Svetlana Kuznetsova. The two-time Grand Slam tournament winner had to go away for a while because of injury, but right now, she looks like--well, like Sveta. But Kuznetsova's tennis has really never been anything to worry about. A superb athlete with all-court skills, the popular Russian player's problems have always resided in her head. At this point, however, she may feel a bit less pressure, whereas, her opponent, Caroline Wozniacki, may be feeling some pressure (despite her constant declarations that she isn't). At any rate, Kuznetsova is playing well, and--barring a full-blown mental collapse--she should give Wozniacki all she can handle.

Well, now I've probably gone and conjured Todd's longtime "Kuznetkova Curse" against the Russian veteran. Oops.

Yesterday, I thought there were a couple of "plucky losers." Obviously, Jamie Hampton was one of them, and the other one was Ayumi Morita, who lost to Serena Williams, but she lost in style. Instead of backing away from her right at (or inside) the baseline stance, Morita held to it, and she competed against the four-time Australian Open champion with poise and confidence. She even went up 3-0 in the second set. Of course, Williams took care of that situation, but Morita had every reason to walk off the court feeling good about what she had done.

Kimiko Date-Krumm's singles run was ended yesterday by Bojana Jovanovski in straight sets. Nothing against  Jovanowski, but I was kind of sad to see Date-Krumm go. Still, what a run. And....she's still in the doubles draw. She and partner Arantxa Parra Santonja have already upset the second seeds.

Sloane Stephens beat Laura Robson in straight sets, which surprised me. Next, Stephens plays Jovanski, which means she has a good chance to face off against none other than Serena in the quarterfinals.

What's with all the yellow? I don't mind yellow, though I prefer to see the softer version. I do like the yellow and white combo, however, and especially on Kirilenko. Speaking of tennis outfits--this is the first time in years that I haven't cared that much for Serena Williams' outfit (I thought Venus's was beautiful). And this is also a good time to mention that Sam Stosur finally got it right and wore a dress that didn't make her look she was wearing a coffee bean sack. She looked very nice.

I heard some news that I find upsetting: Victoria Azarenka has hired a publicist to polish her image. Do those who promote the herd mentality always have to prevail? It's her fire and her authenticity that make Azarenka so special--and so cool. Enjoy Vika now, because the machine may soon symbolically airbrush the life out of her.

Australian Open--what they said

Haven't been much in the way of upsets in the tournament. Going in against the world number 1, how did you rate your chances?
I was pretty confident. I thought they were pretty good, to be honest. I didn't go into the match thinking that I was going to lose. I went in with a lot of belief.
Jamie Hampton

So far, especially in this tournament, you turned your ankle, hit yourself in the head with the racquet. What's next?
Nothing. That's it. I'm done. I'm done. That was it. Just wanted to do two things. Now I got it out of the way.
Serena Williams

I think he deserves everything he gets....The only thing I liked about his interview what he said is he doesn't expect anybody to forgive him.
Victoria Azarenka, referring to Lance Armstrong

A tennis player needs a lot of tools when they play. What do you think is your best asset on the court?
Well, I think over the last couple of years it’s become my forehand. I’ve just found the way I hit the ball is good and I like to use it, so a lot of times I’ll run around the ball and try to take as much as I can with it.
Maria Kirilenko

You get the treatment. How much better can it be made in the short term?
It's tough. I mean, I play with those shorts, which don't look great, by the way, and then I have my back taped up pretty good before every match.
Jamie Hampton

When they cheer your unforced errors, you don't feel like turning and saying, Can you shut up?
It sounds like blah. You don't even hear it after a while.
Sloane Stephens

I know you just crushed your opponent, but you got behind at the beginning of the second set, so maybe you can say something positive about your opponent.
Actually, I only have positive things to say. I thought she played really well. She played at a level higher than I expected so it took me off guard. She was just consistent, really consistent.
Serena Williams

What parts of your game can you improve from today? What do you need to work on? Oh, everything. Simple: everything.
Victoria Azarenka

Top seed seriously tested at Australian Open

The tennis gods may have smiled on top seed Victoria Azarenka today at the Australian Open. Azarenka had all she could handle in Jamie Hampton, and if Hampton hadn't sustained a lower back injury, there's a good possibility that an upset would have occurred. Azarenka may have won the match, but it will be hard for spectators to forget Hampton's exceptional tennis, as well as her gritty determination to play while in considerable pain.

Azarenka prevailed in the first set, though the 5-1 scoreline didn't adequately reflect the fight that was going on from Hampton. That fight continued, and Hampton made it to 4-5. She got shaky when she tried to even things up, however, and wound up committing her first double fault to give Azarenka the set.

Hampton didn't let the first set get her down. She played better in the second set, sometimes showing the serve of which she's capable, hitting powerful groundstrokes, and giving the crowd a good look at her stinging forehand. She broke Azarenka, and had a set point when Azarenka served at 3-5. Azarenka held in that game, and then Hampton called for the trainer. It was obvious that she was being treated for a lower back problem, and after the medical timeout, when she served for the set, Hampton winced in pain several times. She won the set, but it was obvious that she was in quite a bit of pain.

I wondered whether Hampton would retire, but she showed up for the final set, and at 1-all, she broke Azarenka. The top seed broke her back, and then Hampton had her first really bad service game of the match. She was broken, but then--suddenly--Azarenka was down 0-40. At times, almost crying from pain, Hampton began to fade. Though she had engaged her opponent in long, thrilling rallies  earlier in the match, she could no longer stretch out. Attempting to keep points short, she took too many risks and made errors. By the time Azarenka held for 5-2, Hampton had nothing left. The top seed took the set 6-2 and advanced to the round of 16.

Jamie Hampton won the crowd over, and with good reason. She could have retired very respectfully, but the fact that she kept going, seemingly with no fear of Azarenka, was the real story of this match. We've seen this type of grit before, most notably from Venus and Serena, and who can forget Caroline Wozniacki's performance in Doha in 2009? Under other circumstances, Hampton might have thought it wise to retire, but she couldn't stop playing when she knew she had a chance to pull off a huge upset.

Hampton hit 41 winners and put on quite a show, keenly anticipating her opponent's shots, and moving expertly around the court. A forehand that she hit from outside the doubles line will probably be shown again several times on television, and was the shot of the match. If there were such a thing as the Most Improved Fitness award, Hampton would win it, hands down. Her game, which was already good, has improved significantly since she got serious about fitness.

It's also worth mentioning that Hampton, who--until she was injured--was having an exceptionally good tennis day, got inside Azarenka's head, and hung around there for quite a while. The top seed probably wasn't expecting what she got from her opponent, and it showed. She made errors, she double-faulted, she looked bewildered, and--from Hampton's side of the net--probably not very scary.

What this means in terms of Azarenka's Australian Open campaign is anyone's guess. It could very well have served as a wake-up call of sorts. In the next round, the world number 1 plays Elena Vesnina, who--on a good day--has a tricky and very effective serve. Of course, one expects Azarenka to move on with relative ease as she presumably heads toward yet another battle with Serena Williams. But the old demons showed up to torment Azarenka today, undoubtedly giving her more to think about than she would like.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ivanovic conquers Jankovic at Australian Open

Two former world number 1 players, both from Serbia, engaged yesterday in third round match in Melbourne that turned out to have surprisingly high quality. I say "surprisingly" because neither player has been in top form consistently in a long time. But they brought their best games when they had to face each other (though Jankovic was dealing with an injury), and there was a bit of a "tennis time machine" feel about the event.

Ivanovic won, 7-5, 6-3, and will play Li Na in the next round.

Zheng Jie served for the match against Julia Goerges, but was broken, and Goerges went on to win, 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. Angelique Kerber, in fine form (and celebrating her 25th birthday), ended the run of wild card Madison Keys, defeating her 6-2, 7-5, and Ekatarina Makarova beat Marion Bartoli. Valeria Savinykh, the last qualifier standing, lost to Kirsten Flipkens,

2006 champion Maria Sharapova defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3. Williams was able to break Sharapova only once. Sharapova, who won her first two matches 6-0, 6-0, is in very good form.

The dramatic results yesterday, however, occurred in doubles competition. Second seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka lost to--drum roll, please--Kimiko Date-Krumm and Arantxa Parra Satonja. Third seeds Lisa Raymond and Maria Kirilenko also lost--to Australians Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua.

Australian Open--what they said

Did you expect this kind of tournament for yourself when you came?
Yeah. I never think about the playing four, five years ago I never think about play the Grand Slam, so of course this year I won two times in the singles and then two times in doubles. Yeah, like a miracle.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

Do you have any reaction (to Lance Armstrong's interview)?

I can't talk about anything I don't know anything about, so I'm just going to keep my mouth shut.  I'm not an expert on that stuff. That's all I can say.
Venus Williams

Although they did show up on my birthday and I was very disappointed. They did a couple of years ago. I said, "Unless you bring flowers, I'm (not) okay with it."  But they came empty-handed.
Maria Sharapova, commenting on drug-testing thing she's very good at is when she's pulled wide, she's just got so much control of the ball. I think a few times I thought when I hit an angle she'd come back with an angle, but she went for the lower percentage shot down the line, but for her it's higher percentage.
Heather Watson, referring to Agnieszka Radwanska

Francesca Schiavone said to me..."She put her legs in the freezer for ten years."
Rennae Stubbs, referring to Kimiko Date-Krumm

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Robson takes Kvitova out of Australian Open in 3-hour contest

Between them, Laura Robson and Petra Kvitova hit 67 winners and 92 unforced errors, and that's as good a summary of the match as any. This is Kvitova, so naturally, winning the first set didn't mean she was close  to victory. She led 3-0 in the third, however, and then 4-1. But again, this is Kvitova (or at least the unfortunate current version of Kvitova), and she saw Robson not only catch up, but serve for the match at 6-5. Kvitova broke her at that point, but Robson emerged the victor, 2-6, 6-3, 11-9.

Some of the stats, I should add, are impressive. Robson hit 8 aces, Kvitova hit 18. Kvitova's win percentage at the net was 80.

In the third round, Robson will play Sloane Stephens, and that match will draw all kinds of attention. Stephens beat Robson in Hobart, which gives her a little edge. Both players have momentum at this  point, however.

It was brutally hot on the fourth day of the Open. Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams all advanced, and Williams did not appear to have any problems with her injured ankle.

Of note: There are two Japanese players--Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ayumi Morita-- into the third round. Date-Krumm will play Maria Kirilenko in the third round, and I hope I get to watch at least some of that  match because I totally enjoy both players' styles, and I think that seeing them together will be a treat.

Also of note: Five women from the USA have advanced to the third round.

And of further note: Elena Vesnina, who recently won the Hobart title, has also made it to the third round. She beat Varvara Lepchenko in the second round.

Day 5 rounds of interest:
Ana Ivanovic vs. Jelena Jankovic
Angelique Kerber vs. Madison Keys
Venus Wlliams vs. Maria Sharapova

(During the night, something--I don't know what--occurred with Blogger. I was able to repair most of the change, but not all, so the blog looks a bit strange right now.)

Australian Open--what they said

Everybody say to me, you are crazy. First word is always, you are crazy.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

I'm not thinking of what I need to do so I can win the match the same way I did last year.  It would be a mistake.
Victoria Azarenka

You were having a few problems with your ball toss toward the end.
That's nothing new though, is it?
Laura Robson

What's the treatment plan? More icing, more massage? What do you do?
Yeah, just lots of ice, lots of massage, and just lots of positive thinking, I guess.
Serena Williams

How many more Australian Opens are you planning to play?
Five more. But not easy. Not easy. I need new body.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sharapova yet to drop a game in Melbourne

We often talk about a player not dropping a set, but in the case of 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, there is an unusual statistic: She has yet to drop a game at the Open. After beating countrwoman Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0 in the first round, Sharapova beat Misaki Doi 6-0, 6-0 in the second round. Wendy Turnbull is the only other women to win both opening  rounds 6-0, 6-0 at the Australian Open. Turnbull accomplished this feat in 1985.

The Russian romp is over, however; Sharapova plays Venus Williams in the next round, so she'll have to do some work. Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Li Na all advanced to the third round. Ekaterina Makarova, who made it to the quarterfinals last year, also advanced, and will face Marion Bartoli in the next round.

Qualifier Valeria Savinykh upset 15the seed Dominika Cibulkova, 7-6, 6-4. And wild card Madison Keys took out Tamira Paszek. Paszek is known for playing very long matches, but she won only three games against Keys, and the match was over in less than an hour. The 17-year-old's statistics say it all: 23 winners, a 75% success rate at the net, and first and second serve win percentages of 86 and 65. Keys will play Kerber in the third round, and that has the potential to be a fine match.

The 10th-seeded doubles team, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza, were upset in the first round by Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro. 11th seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova lost to Shuko Aoyama an Irina Falconi.

Speedy Zheng runs Stosur out of Melbourne

"Stosur Serves It OUT" was the brutal headline that appeared on the Australian Open website shortly after the 9th seed was sent packing by the amazingly speedy Zheng Jie. Stosur and Zheng played their second round for 2 hours and 42 minutes, but for the Australian number 1, it must have felt like a lifetime. As always, it was fun to watch Zheng zip around the court and retrieve balls that looked like they were headed somewhere beyond the stadium. And, as usual, it was painful to watch Stosur crack under the pressure of playing in her own country. Australia is to Stosur what Paris was to Amelie Mauresmo (who used to arrive at her most dreaded event to find a giant cutout of her image on display), and one wonders if that will ever change.

The match was somewhat of a mess, with both players making nerve-motivated mistakes over and over. Zheng's flubbed volleys were especially painful since she is also a doubles expert. (And by the way, ESPN: Zheng Jie won the Australian Open doubles title seven years ago, she won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2006, also; she has an Olympic bronze medal in doubles, and two gold medals in doubles in the Asian Games. But among the ESPN commentators, it was "Stosur...doubles...this," "Stosur...doubles...that," "Stosur...great doubles record," with no mention at all of Zheng's accomplishments.) Between them, the players made 99 unforced errors (Stosur made 56 of those), Stosur had a second serve win percentage of only 29, and she double-faulted nine times (more about that later).

I should add that there were also plenty of breathtaking rallies in this match.

When the Australian went up two breaks for 5-2 in the third set (with one break occurring when Zheng had gotten to 40-0), I thought maybe she could actually pull off the win (that's right--maybe). But despite serving for the match twice,  Stosur never held a match point. While motoring around the court, Zheng undoubtedly peeked once or twice and saw the despair on Stosur's face.

In the final game, the Chinese player gave it everything she had, cracking a forehand that set up match point. When Stosur proceeded to fault on her first serve, I thought "Oh, no, is she going to--" and before I could finish my thought, Stosur indeed double-faulted. And, as negative as this may sound, that actually seemed like the "proper" conclusion to a match in which Stosur had one of her bigger meltdowns. (To make things worse, Stosur had only just lost to Zheng in the first round in Sydney. Ouch.) 

Zheng, who was a semifinalist in Melbourne in 2010, advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory.

Though I am sick of hearing sports commentators go on and on about "work ethic," I do believe that Zheng is someone for whom the term has real meaning. When she lost in the 2010 Australian Open semifinals, it was her poor serve that did her in. She left Melbourne and immediately hired a serving coach. Zheng's serve is nothing special (except when it is--ask Stosur), but it is no longer the extremely weak element it used to be. Sadly, other players appear not to have followed her example.

In the next round, Zheng will face Julia Goerges.

Australian Open--what they said

I was thinking "I can't lose, I can't lose," and then I would go out in the first round.
Li Na

I'm just enjoy to be there where I am right now, and just having fun on the court and off site.
Angelique Kerber

How did you get from lawyers' kid, especially two working lawyers, to become a tennis player at this level?
Complete luck. No one in my family plays tennis.  I just came upon it one day.  Just thought, Hey, I'll try it.  You know, it's worked out pretty well.
Madison Keys

Everyone can beat another one.
Li Na

She changes her grip--she kind of does a frying pan grandmother swat.
Pam Shriver

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Williams has (yet another) foot scare on day 2 in Melbourne

Only Serena Williams can roll her ankle, go smack to the ground, experience pain, and then return to the court to win her match 6-0, 6-0. Her victory-while-injured defeat of Edina Gallovits-Hall reminded me of the time she had the use of only one leg and one hand, and she was still able to beat Daniela Hantuchova. Fortunately, Williams is a compulsive ankle-wrapper, so there's no doubt that her self-care prevented what could have been a much worse injury.

Naturally, there's some swelling, so tennis fans (and opponents) are still waiting for a medical update on Williams, but she sounded pretty upbeat in her press conference. The five-time Australian Open champion fell on her right ankle, the same one she injured in Brisbane last year.

But Williams' scare wasn't the only news on day 2 of the Australian Open.

Nadia Petrova, the 12th seed, won only two games against Kimiko Date-Krumm. Oh, Nadia. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has looked so good this season (and whom I expected to do some damage in Melbourne) is gone. Russia's young star was defeated 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 by Lesia Tsurenko. And 7th seed Sara Errani was defeated by Carla Suarez Navarro.

Good news for Petra Kvitova--her scary "I'll go away for a while but come back just in time to win" strategy worked against Francesca Schiavone. No-so-good news for Kvitova--Laura Robson is her next opponent. The real Kvitova would relish a chance to put an upstart like Robson in her place, but whoever it is that the Czech star has turned into could be facing a brimming teapotful of upstartery.

Caroline Wozniacki and Sabine Lisicki met again, and, not surprisingly, the German went to pieces and made multiple errors while Wozniacki cleaned up in the third set.

Defending champion and top seed Victoria Azarenka got tangled in the web that is Monica Niculescu, but she untangled herself nicely to win in straight sets. Sloane Stephens ran over Simona Halep 6-1, 6-1, and  Annika Beck lived up to her reputation as an up-and-comer by taking out Yaroslava Shvedova.

Garbine Muguruza had to play for 3 1/2 hours before defeating Magdalena Rybarikova 4-6, 6-1, 14-12. And Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos played for nearly three hours. Mladenovic won, 6-3, 4-6, 11-9.

Australian Open--what they said

I'll be out there unless something fatal happens to me...
Serena Williams

I like here. I remember in 2011 the fourth round I play Radwanska. I have two match point to the quarters, but I didn't make that. So I really remember that.
Peng Shuai

There are obvious areas of concern for Kvitova—her volleying was particularly poor and she was far too easily flummoxed by Schiavone's slice—but it was a gritty performance against a tough and experienced opponent who did everything in her power to prevent the big hitter from occupying her favoured center-of-the-baseline territory.
Hannah Wilks

I think sometimes what you don't know cannot hurt you.
Serena Williams
(reminiscent of Dinara Safina's "The more you know, the less you sleep")

...Some people, the player’s mother is younger than me.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 1 in Melbourne mostly routine

There were no surprises on the first day of the Australian Open, and by "no surprises," I mean that Tamira Paszek played for 2 hours and 43 minutes. This time, she dragged poor Stefanie Voegele through the ordeal. Paszek won, by the way.

Four qualifiers and one wild card (Madison Keys) made it to the second round. Agnieszka Radwanska had a hard time with the wind (oh, where is Vera Zvonareva when you really need her?), Ksenia Pervak showed Mona Barthel the door, and Dominika Cibulkova had a hard time with Ashleigh Barty, who took a set off of the Sydney finalist. I look forward to seeing a lot more of the young Australian player.

Venus Williams, dressed in probably my favorite EleVen dress, easily defeated Galina Voskoboeva. Sam Stosur survived the first round by beating Chang Kai-Chen. However, in the next round, the anxious Aussie faces Zheng Jie, the WTA's Energizer Bunny. Zheng is no stranger to success in Melbourne; in 2010, she beat the world's number 1 player and advanced to the semifinals. Stosur is vulnerable, and Zheng is an especially dangerous player because of her speed.

If Stosur survives Zheng, she'll probably (the key word) have to play Julia Goerges, who likes to mess with top-ranked players. Li Na also lurks in that section, so the 2011 U.S. Open champion isn't likely to  have an easy time of it.

Maria Sharapova had a pretty easy time of it, defeating Olga Pouchkova 6-0, 6-0 (probably just showing off for Aga Radwanska). Angelique Kerber (who is already cranky, and it's just the first round), had to do more work against Elina Svitolina than the 6-2, 6-4 scoreline suggests. Marion Bartoli beat Hopman Cup champion Anabel Medina Garrigues, and Heather Watson advanced to the second round, where Pervak awaits her.

Australian Open--what they said

You don't get any extra satisfaction out of 0‑0?
No, if you win 7‑6 in the third, you still won the match.
Maria Sharapova

I have heard Hisense is a lot slower than the outer courts that maybe you practiced on also. Did you sense that at all today?
I'm a very unsensitive player. I can't sense anything almost.
Venus Williams

I think we both couldn't win one game from the one side. I think I was just losing against the wind, pretty much.
Agnieszka Radwanska

When I was on vacation, I just really let loose.
Maria Sharapova

Where are those gold medals?
I have hid them in a sack. Yeah. One day if I become a statistic and I lose all my money, then I have to melt the gold off the top.
Venus Williams

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Passing shots--Australian Open edition

Pat Cash visits, interviews, and hits with his favorite WTA player. ("I don't like running too much," she tells him.)

Todd Spiker reminds us that, since 2005, Serena Williams has held a 20-1 record against Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

Here are some of Australian Open defending champion Victoria Azarenka's off-season vacation photos.

Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Kirilenko and Laura Robson try out an all-mirror court to  help launch the addidas by Stella McCartney collection.

And finally, you can't really prepare to watch the Australian Open without this:

Australian Open predictions

Pete Bodo--Serena Williams
Ed McGrogan--Serena Williams*
Richard Pagliaro--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Maria Sharapova
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Steve Tignor--Victoria Azarenka
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Todd Spiker--Serena Williams**
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Serena Wiliams
Patrick McEnroe--Serena Williams
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Steve Flink--Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha--Victoria Azarenka
Matt Wilansky--Agnieszka Radwanska
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams

*original pick was Petra Kvitova
**caRL piCK2--Maria Sharapova
(Carla beautifully selects Li Na)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vesnina (finally) wins first WTA title

The talented Elena Vesnina, who is often a joy to watch, won the Hobart tournament just a while ago. Vesnina, who has an excellent, and sometimes tricky, serve (but, like some other strong-serving players, she can't always access it), has six WTA runner-up trophies. That just never seemed right to me. Now, though, she  has a title!

The engaging Russian defeated Mona Barthel 6-3, 6-4 in the final. To get to the final, Vesnina beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Yaroslava Shvedova, Jarmila Gajdosova and Sloane Stephens.

Vika and Serena--together again?

Now that the Australian Open draw has been published, the potential WTA event that's being talked about the most--with good reason--is the likely semifinal match between defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams. If the draw progresses that way, there will be an electric atmosphere surrounding the semifinal.

Williams beat Azarenka in the hard-fought 2012 U.S. Open final. The two have an interesting history. They were supposed to have met in Brisbane, but Azarenka withdrew before the match because of a pedicure-induced toe infection. Interestingly, Williams had just had minor surgery on her two big toes. Talk about toe-to-toe.

Azarenka's quarter includes Caroline Wozniacki, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (who appears to finally be meeting her potential), Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sara Errani. Williams is in the same quarter as Maria Kirilenko, Nadia Petrova, Sloane Stephens, Laura Robson, and Petra Kvitova.

There are some interesting first round match-ups:

Jamie Hampton vs. Urszula Radwanska--Both players are on the rise
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sabine Lisicki--Woz's to lose, but--oh, what a pair
Francesca Schiavone vs. Petra Kvitova--Kvitova's to lose, but......
Chang Kai-Chen vs. Samantha Stosur--Can Sammy hold it together in the opening round?
Mona Barthel vs. Ksenia Pervak--Barthel runs hot and cold, and Pervak is on the rise
Casey Dellacqua vs. Madison Keys--Dellacqua will have the crowd behind her; will it be enough?
Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. Marion Bartoli--The Spaniard has to be feeling good after Hopman Cup
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Ashleigh Barty--A tired, probably spirit-crushed Cibulkova will also have to deal with extreme crowd support for her opponent

And in honor of Vika and Serena and their toes, here's a little something for your listening pleasure:

Radwanska emphatically wins second title of 2013

Not since 2006, when Marion Bartoli won in Quebec City, had a player pulled off a 6-0, 6-o win in the final of a tournament, but top seed Agnieszka Radwanska just did it in Sydney. Radwanska did not allow Dominika Cibulkova to take one game, and the match ended in just over an hour.

Cibulkova commented on the match: "Actually I felt I could win every game I lost until 6-0, 1-0. But when I lost that 1-0 game again in the second set, I just completely broke down and stopped thinking about what I had to do out there. I was just thinking, 'Oh my God, what is happening?'"

The unseeded Cibulkova took out three top ten players--Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani and Angelique Kerber--in Sydney. For her spectacular run to end the way it did is puzzling, but these things happen from time to time.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were defeated 6-3, 6-4 in the final by Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik.

The last two standing in Hobart are defending champion Mona Barthel and Elena Vesnina. They defeated Kirsten Flipkens and Sloane Stephens, respectively. When Vesnina is "on," she has a serve that's very hard to return. Nice to know she's been "on" so far this season.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Undefeated Radwanska advances to Sydney final on 8th match point

Sydney's top seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, who is 8-0 so far this season, advanced to the final yesterday when she defeated 2011 champion Li Na 6-3, 6-4. Both players were undefeated for the season coming into the semifinal, and Li had beaten Radwanska in their three 2012 matches. But Li made 46 unforced errors, taking herself out of the competition.

Li looked tired a good deal of the time, but nevertheless saved seven match points, two on her own serve. The Chinese star is often at her best when a loss is imminent, and this match was a good example. Toward the end, she threw everything she had at Radwanska (including an unsuccessful 'tweener), and gave the crowd some of the thrills they'd been waiting for.

Radwanska has yet to drop a set in 2013. Her opponent in the Sydney final will be Dominika Cibulkova, who defeated Angelique Kerber 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. I wasn't able to watch the match, but my understanding is that both players were somewhat over-the-top in displaying their more well-known on-court characteristics; wish I'd seen it.

In doubles, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci reached the final, in which they will play Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik. Petrova and Srebotnik took out 2nd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the semifinals.

In Hobart, Mona Barthel ended Tsvetana Pironkova's run. Barthel will play Kirsten Flipkens in the semifinals. Also competing in the semifinals are Elena Vesnina and Sloane Stephens.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Passing shots

The WTA has begun to fix some of the bugs and problems in its new website. We'll see; keep complaining!

I have mixed feelings about the featured player photos on the site. I wish the players had been photographed wearing their tennis dresses. On the other hand, the photos are really nice, and a huge improvement on the old ones.

I forgot to mention this before, but I thought that the glam part of Hopman Cup was kind of nice.

Tsvetana Pironkova beat 3rd seed Klara Zakopalova in Hobart today. When you least expect it, Pironkova emerges.

If you enjoy Lucie Safrova (and surely you do), you'll like this.

Now that Novak Djokovic is doing imitations again (his Guga was wonderful),we get to see a "new" version of Ana Ivanovic:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top seed Radwanska into Sydney semifinals

Dominika Cibulkova and top seed Agnieszka Radwanska have both advanced to the Sydney semifinals by defeating Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, respectively.

Qualifier Madison Keys, who defeated Lucie Safarova in the the first round, went on to defeat Zheng Jie in the second round. Impressive. However, Keys will next face 4th seed Li Na, which is likely to mean that her run will end.

 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, will play 2nd see Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Stosur out in first round of Sydney

After going out to Sofia Arvidsson in the first round in Brisbane, Sam Stosur continued her poor start of the 2013 season by making an exit in the first round in Sydney. Zheng Jie defeated the Australian star 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. Zheng, to be sure, is a tough opponent, but the reality is that Stosur goes to Melbourne with practically no warmup at all.

Among those joining Zheng in winning their first rounds were Roberta Vinci (def. Nadia Petrova), Jelena Jankovic (def. Tamira Paszek), Li Na (def. Christina McHale), and Svetlana Kuznetsova (def. Julia Goerges). Of note: Madison Keys beat Lucie Safarova 6-2, 6-1.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Who will win the Australian Open?

In a "normal" WTA world, there would be five contenders for the Australian Open title: Serena Williams, defending champion Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova, and Li Na. That's a good list. But, as usual, the WTA world isn't "normal," and it's just January.

The defending champion withdrew from the Brisbane semifinals (she would have played Williams) because of a toe infection brought on by a bad pedicure. Sharapova has an injured collarbone. Kvitova is--well, decorum prevents me from saying what she is, but she's obviously in some kind of professional crisis.

Williams just had minor surgery on both big toes, but that didn't stop her from winning the Brisbane title. Because she's, you know, Serena Williams. And Li won the Shenzhen title, which means she had a nice warmup for Melbourne.

Of course, there's every reason to believe that Azarenka will be fine by the time the Australian Open starts, and that Sharapova will be fine, too. I'm not so sure about Kvitova, though it pains me to say so.

We can't talk about the Australian Open without mentioning Sam Stosur, but history tells us that the Australian star is the least comfortable on her home court. It would be great to see her do really well in Melbourne, but perhaps we shouldn't get our hopes up.

 What do you think? Can Azarenka defend her title? Can anyone stop Serena?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oh, Petra--and the season has only just begun

Petra Kvitova went out in the first round of Sydney today. Just like that. Kvitova was defeated 6-1, 6-1 by Dominika Cibulkova. A lot of top players get kicked around pretty badly by Cibulkova (who is an impressive number 15 in the world), for whom I have a lot of regard. But winning just two games and making 36 unforced errors (and going out early in the first two tournaments of the season) is not something we should see in Kvitova's match stats (if, indeed, we ever get to see them again).

We can all speculate about what's going on with the 2011 Wimbledon champion, but only Kvitova really knows what she needs to do to get her groove back. All her fans can do is cringe--and wait.

Caroline Wozniacki also advanced to the second round with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Urszula Radwanska, and Maria Kirilenko defeated Olivia Rogowska.

Passing shots

Andrea Petkovic will be out for two months because she had to have surgery on a torn meniscus in her right knee. Poor Petko--will it ever end?

In case you missed the "Backspin Before Christmas" trilogy, catch up now!

Shiavone by the sea--who could ask for more?

Here's a preview of 'Pova's Australian Open dress.

Get to know Monica Puig.

Maria Kirilenko and hockey star Alex Ovechkin are engaged to be married.

Victoria Azarenka reports that her toe infection was caused by a botched pedicure.

Worst. Design. Ever.

The re-designed WTA website is a horror story. Please feel free to drop complaints right here. Really--don't hold back.

Williams wins Brisbane

Serena Williams, who received a walkover from top seed Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals, won the Brisbane title today when she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-1. "I always feel like I don't know how to play tennis when I play against you," Pavlyuchenkova told Williams at the trophy ceremony.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza won the doubles title, defeating Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke 4-6, 6-4, 10-7.

In Auckland, top seed Agnieszka Radwanska lifted the winner's trophy after she defeated Yanina Wicxkmayer 6-4, 6-4. Cara Black and Anastasia Rodionova defeated top seeds Julia Goerges and Yaroslava Shvedova 2-6, 6-2, 10-5 to win the title.

And at the new tournament in Shenzhen, top seed Li Na emerged the winner when she defeated Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. Zakopalova is a tough opponent for Li, so the Chinese star's victory was all the sweeter. The Shenzhen title is her seventh.

In Shenzhen doubles, sisters Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan won the title. They defeated the unseeded Irina Buryachok and Valeria Solovieva 6-0, 7-5.

Medina Garrigues clinches Hopman Cup title for Spain

She had a back injury and didn't like her chances, but Anabel Medina Garrigues won three singles matches in Hopman Cup play, including the women's singles part of the final, as well as the mixed doubles final match.

Medina Garrigues defeated Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 after Novak Djokovic defeated Fernando Verdasco. Spain and Serbia were then tied, and Spain prevailed when Medina Garrigues and Verdasco defeated Ivanovic and Djokovic 6-4,7-5

"It was absolutely a pleasure to play with her," Verdasco said of his partner.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Azarenka out of Brisbane

Top seed Victoria Azarenka, citing a toe infection, gave Serena Williams a walkover in the Brisbane semifinals today. Williams just had surgery on two toes, by the way. Her opponent in the final will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has had quite a run so far, taking out both Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber.

One can only imagine the disappointment of fans who were looking forward to another Williams-Azarenka match. Azarenka said that she has had the infection for several days, and that it's getting worse.

Also in Brisbane, Anna-Lena Groenfeld and Kveta Peschke upset top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the doubles semifinals.

Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska won the title in Auckland today by defeating Yanina Wickmayer 6-4, 6-4. The doubles title went to Cara Black and Anastasia Rodionova who upset top seeds Julia Goerges and Yaroslava Shvedova 2-6, 6-2, 10-5.

In Shenzhen, top seed Li Na advanced to the final when she beat countrywoman Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-0. Li's opponent in the final will be Klara Zakopalova, who defeated Monica Niculescu 6-1, 6-3 in the semifinals.

In Hopman Cup play, Spain will play Serbia for the title.

Friday cat blogging--bay window edition, part 2

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Strange start in Brisbane

The tour's top players are (or, in some cases, were) in Brisbane to start the 2013 season, but it has been a less than auspicious beginning for some of them. Both Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki went out in the first round, with Stosur losing to Sofia Arvidsson, and Wozniacki losing to Ksenia Pervak.

Today, Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Brisbane champion, lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Qualifier Pervak saved four match points and advanced with a second round win over Urszula Radwanska, and Daniela Hantuchova beat Sara Errani.

In the meantime, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Brisbane because of her collarbone injury.

Also of note: Jelena Jankovic has withdrawn from the tournament in Shenzhen (reason unknown--at least to me).