Saturday, January 31, 2015

33 is the New 19

At this stage of her career, each grand slam that Serena Williams DOESN'T win is one less chance she'll have to add to her expanding number of major titles. At 33, having already become the oldest #1-ranked player in WTA history two years ago, she has a finite number of opportunities remaining.

Playing in the final of the Australian Open, an event she'd already won five times in the past, against Maria Sharapova, a player she hadn't lost to in over a decade, you didn't really think she was going to let title #19 slip through her fingers, did you?

I didn't think so.

Though hard-hitting and hungry 19-year old Madison Keys came pretty close to giving the notion flesh-and-blood life in the semifinals, time
itself is the #1 opponent nipping at Serena's heels. It'll win, too. One day. The laws of nature say it's so. But it hasn't won yet. And it won't for a while longer, either.

Make no mistake, Williams' quest for slam immortality is the leading reason for the continuation of and overall objective for the rest of her career. To begin her 2015 with a sixth Australian Open title was always a potentially big "get" on her part, as it would relieve the pressure of a possible slam-less year and allow her to relax. While Billie Jean King has always liked to say that "pressure is a privilege" for the best players playing in high-stakes matches, it's also a burden. We saw how much of one it was for Williams through the first three slams of '14, as she struggled to live up to her lofty goal of claiming slam #18 and tying both Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time major title list.

Ending five months after it began, Serena's quest for #19 turned out to be a less time-consuming affair.

Pity poor Sharapova that her wait to finally defeat Williams for the first time since 2004, a losing streak that was extended tonight in Melbourne to sixteen matches, doesn't look as if it will have its last rites publicly recited anytime soon. After the Russian upset Williams to win Wimbledon and the WTA Championships eleven seasons ago, Serena's run of dominance began soon afterward when she defeated Sharapova in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals in an 8-6 3rd set after having faced down match points. As the pressure on Sharapova in this match-up has mounted over the years, she's never really approached a match versus Williams like she does those against other players. Experience has led her to understand that her best might not be enough to defeat Serena, taking her out of her own self-possessed gameday mindset. A player who never doubts her ability to win ALWAYS has doubt in her mind when Williams is on the other side of the net. Sometimes you can almost see it written on her face.

Sharapova has been playing with "house money" at this AO since the 2nd Round, when she escaped an upset-minded trap set down by fellow Hordette Alexandra Panova, who held two match points aginst her. With her 1st serve consistent enough to be a reliable weapon over the past two weeks, and with an offseason of hard work having improved her side-to-side defense, Sharapova entered the final having played like the best player in the draw over the last four rounds. While Serena had often struggled with slow starts, after her early close call, Sharapova had coasted.

As she led the parade through the Walk of Champions to Rod Laver Arena court tonight, one couldn't help but study her face to see if she felt Williams, walking just a few paces behind, bearing down on her. As the two walked across court to the sounds of Katy Perry's "Roar" playing in the background, the question was whether world #2 Sharapova's own mighty roar could possibly be enough to rule the night, or even make things interesting. As it turned out, what followed was one of her better accountings for herself in this decade-long losing battle against the best player of her generation.

But Serena's roar (as well as her "Come on!" exhortations), as usual, was simply louder and more lethal.

On the first point of the match, Sharapova failed to get back a Williams return of serve and fell behind love/15. Then 0/30. After holding a pair of game points, the Russian made an error off Serena's return of a body serve to give Williams a break point. Sharapova's double-fault put her behind 1-0. Serena ended a groundstroke exchange with a forehand winner for a 2-0 lead before Sharapova finally got a foothold in the match, holding at love for 2-1. In the sixth game of the 1st set, Sharapova twice went ahead on the Williams serve at love/15 and 15/30, only to see play stopped at 30/30 when a drizzle turned into a rain shower and the ball kids were sent scurrying all over the court with towels in an attempt to keep the lines dry until the Laver court roof could be closed. Why no one could read weather radar and know to close the roof BEFORE it began to rain is another question altogether.

During the delay, Sharapova remained in her seat in the changeover area, while Williams retreated to a dry corridor just off the court. Before play resumed, she was seen by a doctor and treated for the respiratory illness that has plagued her over the past week. When action began again, Serena opened play with an ace, then a winner to hold for 4-2. She'd win the first six points, breaking Sharapova's serve a game later for a 5-2 lead. Serving for the set, Williams played a bad game, falling behind love/40 before a big 1st serve and ace got her back in the game, only to double-fault and give back one of the breaks. In the next game, though, Serena used her defensive skills to keep a rally alive and then went up love/30 on Sharapova's serve when she failed to convert a half-volley attempt. Williams broke her serve at love with a backhand winner to take the set at 6-3.

While Williams' serving numbers hadn't been quite up to her standards (only 54% of 1st serves in, and just three aces) in the opening set, she'd won it fairly routinely on the strength of the rest of her game. In the 2nd, though, she raised her service game several levels, yet had to fight to prevent Sharapova from pushing the match to a 3rd set. In one of the best-played sets of their nineteen-match history, the 2nd lasted 1:04 and featured no breaks of serve. Serena hit fifteen aces in the set, but was still forced to engage in just the third tie-break in the series' forty-two total sets.

Consistently, after Sharapova changed up her patterns and used an occasional drop shot to claim an important point, or Williams committed a few errors to put herself into trouble, Serena's serve bailed her out of possible danger. Meanwhile, Sharapova, after having lost ten straight points on serve and fallen behind 15/40 while down 1-0 in the set, pulled out two aces and another unreturnable serve to hold. After trailing love/30, Williams then cracked three aces in four points to hold for 3-2. In game #7, Serena failed to convert a GP after she'd lost a point due to the "hindrance rule" when she yelled "Come on!" a tad too early on what she thought was going to be a wide ace to the ad court. Sharapova got to break point, but hit a return wide. Getting another chance at a game point, Williams smashed the same wide ace to the ad court that she'd take away from herself just moments earlier, holding for 4-3.

Sharapova held with an ace, then Williams held at love. Serving down 5-4, Sharapova double-faulted to stand at 30/30, then missed on a crosscourt shot to give Serena a match point. But the Russian hit a winner into the right corner, staving off her third MP of the tournament. A drop shot that Williams failed to get back over the net gave her a game point, and she held for 5-5. After most every point, both players were yelling "Come on!," spurring themselves on or admonishing their actions. Sometimes both voice even filled the air at the same time. Williams held with an ace for 6-5, then Sharapova's routine hold sent the set to a tie-break.

On the first point of the TB, Sharapova's hopes to extend the match rose as she smacked a forehand winner off a Williams 1st serve to go up a mini-break at 1-0. But Serena's big returns helped win both of Sharapova's two serves, then she held to go up 4-1. Williams' third error of the TB cut her lead to 5-4, but her forehand return winner gave her a match point at 6-4. A big forehand saved MP #2 for Sharapova, but then Williams stepped up to the line with her first MP of the day on her own serve. She fired an ace and dropped her racket to celebrate... only to have the net cord alert sound. After a priceless, hands-on-hips reaction, Williams retrieved her racket and went back to the line... and then fired another ace, winning her twenty-seventh of thirty-one 1st serve points in the set.

Serena then turned to chair umpire Alison Hughes and asked, "Now?" With permission granted, she went to the net to shake hands with Sharapova following her 6-3/7-6(5) victory... then the jumpy celebration was on.

Having now lost sixteen straight matches to Williams, and twenty-six of the last twenty-seven sets, Sharapova will now arrive in Melbourne next January with her last title there having come eight full years earlier. While the great 2nd set was full of hard-hitting competition in which Sharapova forced Serena to dig down and take the match (which she did, as usual), it was also a stretch that may give the Russian an ounce of much-needed additional confidence that might prove the difference in finally producing her first win over Williams in over a decade. Especially if they meet on the clay, where Sharapova has dominated the tour in recent years... well, except for when she's played Serena, that is.

Either way, there was at least enough in this match to allow Sharapova to talk herself into believing she might soon have a chance against Williams. Maybe she'll get there again. Maybe not. But Maria won't stop trying. And that's enough to give her hope.

Meanwhile, Williams can breath easy as Evert and Navratilova slide into her rear view mirror on the all-time slam list. Steffi Graf's twenty-two is now dead ahead, and even Margaret Court's pre-and-Open era spanning twenty-four might be around the far corner and capable of being challenged. Winning this Australian Open gives Serena that chance, mostly because, unlike '14, it's enabled her to calm her nerves and allow herself to relax before she heads to Europe this spring and summer in search of another major crown. It could make all the different between a very good -- for Serena -- season and an epic one. On ESPN after the match, Williams said she felt like she was 25, not 33.


Relax, and the world cheers with her. For #19, and possibly soon #20... and who knows how many more after that.

...yesterday, Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova both picked up their first career slam doubles titles, as they defeated Chan Yung-Jan & Zheng Jie in the final. BMS previously won a mixed crown in Melbourne.

?????? @matteksands

A photo posted by Lucie Safarova (@lucie.safarova) on today's junior girls singles final, unseeded Slovak Tereza Mihalikova took out Brit Katie Swan, the #14 seed, 6-1/6-4. Mihalikova is the first Slovak to win the AO juniors, and the first girl from her country to take a girls singles slam since Kristina Kucova own the U.S. Open in 2007.

Yesterday, Czech Maidens Miriam Kolodziejova & Marketa Vondrousova won the girls doubles final over Katharina Hobgarski (GER) & Greet Minnen (BEL).

...a big upset in the Wheelchair women's final. After Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley claimed their fifth straight slam doubles title yesterday, world #1 Kamiji was denied an AO sweep in the singles final as she attempted to become the reigning champ in all seven slam singles and doubles disciplines.

Kamiji, 20, was taken out by Jiske Griffioen 6-3/7-5, as the Dutch 29-year old won her first slam singles title to go along with her nine major doubles titles. Griffioen's only other slam singles final came at Roland Garros in 2013, and last year she was defeated by Kamiji in the semifinals at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and U.S. Open.

So, Kamiji is now 7-0 is slam singles & doubles finals for her career... other than in the AO singles decider, where's she's now lost the last two years. In 2014, German Sabine Ellerbrock defeated the then teenaged Japanese woman. Kamiji defeated Aniek Van Koot in the finals of both Roland Garros and the U.S. Open last year. Griffioen defeated the #2-seeded Van Koot in this year's AO semifinals.

...the mixed doubles title will be decided on Sunday, with Martina Hingis & Leander Paes competing in the final, as the Original Swiss Miss looks for her first slam crown since 2006.

Yep, he's right. Hingis has won a combined fifteen slam singles, doubles and mixed titles, while Paes has fourteen in doubles and mixed. Of course, the reigning AO mixed champs might have something to say about it.

Mladenovic & Nestor will be going for their third mixed crown as a duo.


...DAY 13 LIKE #1: doin' the Mihalikova?

...DAY 13 ANOTHER-NEAR-MISS: I guess Maria's Comet passed us by without a direct hit again...

Come on, I had to use that have-it-ready-just-in-case-she-wins graphic SOMEWHERE since I went to the trouble of making it, right?

...DAY 13 LIKE #2: Hand/eye coordination is a must...

...DAY 13 SLIGHTLY SURPRISING RESULT: not sure I would have called this one exactly this way. But, then again, at least two other good candidates (Venus & Serena) never win any of those fan polls that the WTA conducts.

I do think the wrist band was cool, though. The Pride's performance in the quarterfinals? Not so much.

...DAY 13 SEASON MUST (if a player wants to stay sane) #1: AnaIvo has moved on to the next challenge...

...DAY 13 SEASON MUST (if a player wants to stay sane) #2: And so has Cibulkova...

...DAY 13 LIKE #3: She shall return. Third time's a charm in 2016?

...DAY 13 REALITY CHECK: Meanwhile, Lepchenko is on to Fed Cup... where she'll once again be overlooked in favor of other big names dropping in on the roster. It likely means Varvara won't see the court in a live match.

Not that MJF is complaining... the U.S. team REALLY needs a win if it wants to contend for anything again before 2018. And having a Williams (or two) and, now, a Keys around can only help matters.



...DAY 13 LIKE #4: This. Just because both of these two could likely laugh at it, as well. Murray posted his Christmas photo himself, after all.

...and, finally, I'll be back sometime tomorrow with some sort of recap of the final day of action in Melbourne, including the men's final. How much? Who knows. When? Not sure... considering when Djokovic and Murray get together for a best-of-five match, the chance of a four or five hour marathon are always a lingering possibility.

After that, a quick January awards ceremony and a Fed Cup preview will be on deck for the coming week.

#1 Serena Williams/USA def. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS 6-3/7-6(5)

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #6 Andy Murray/GBR

Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) def. #14 YJ.Chan/J.Zheng (TPE/CHN) 6-4/7-6(5)

Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA) def. Herbert/Mahut (FRA/FRA) 6-4/6-4

#3 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) vs. #7 Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND)

Tereza Mihalikova/SVK def. #14 Katie Swan/GBR 6-1/6-4

#1 Roman Safiullin/RUS def. #7 Seong-chan Hong/KOR 7-5/7-6(2)

#2 Kolodziejova/Vondrousova (CZE/CZE) def. Hobnarski/Minnen (GER/BEL) 7-5/6-4

Delaney/Polmans (AUS/AUS) def. #8 Hurkacz/Molcan (POL/SVK) 0-6/6-2 [10-8]

Jiske Griffioen/NED def. #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN 6-3/7-5

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN def. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA 6-2/6-2

#1 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley (JPN/GBR) def. #2 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek Van Koot (NED/NED) 4-6/6-4/7-5

#1 Shingo Kunieda/Stephane Houdet (JPN/FRA) def. Gordon Reid/Gustavo Fernandez (GBR/ARG) 6-2/6-1

24...Margaret Court (11 in Open era)
22...Steffi Graf
19...Helen Wills-Moody (all pre-Open era)
18...Martina Navratilova
18...Chris Evert
12...Billie Jean King (8 in Open era)
12...Suzanne Lenglen (all pre-Open era)
[slam singles titles - active]
7...Venus Williams, USA
5...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
[total slam titles - active - singles/doubles/mixed]
34...SERENA WILLIAMS (19-13-2)
22...Venus Williams (7-13-2)
15...Martina Hingis (5-9-1)
11...Lisa Raymond (0-6-5)
10...Cara Black (0-5-5)

*MOST FINALS - active*
[Australian Open]
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
1...Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)
82...SERENA WILLIAMS (65-17)
76...Venus Williams (46-30)
57...MARIA SHARAPOVA (34-23)
38...Caroline Wozniacki (22-16)
34...Svetlana Kuznetsova (14-20)
32...Victoria Azarenka (17-15)
32...Jelena Jankovic (13-19)
30...Vera Zvonareva (12-18)
23...Serena Williams (19-4)
14...Venus Williams (7-7)
10...Maria Sharapova (5-5)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
4...Victoria Azarenka (2-2)
3...Ana Ivanovic (1-2)

6...Serena Williams (30=2; 31=2; 32=1; 33=1)
3...Martina Navratilova (30=2; 33=1)
3...Margaret Court (30=2; 31=1)
2...Billie Jean King (30=1; 31=1)
2...Chris Evert (30=1; 31=1)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30=1)
1...Virginia Wade (31=1)
1...Li Na (31=1)

2001 Jelena Jankovic/SRB def. Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
2002 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2003 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE def. Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
2004 Shahar Peer/ISR def. Nicole Vaidisova/CZE
2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Agnes Szavay/HUN
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Arantxa Rus/NED def. Jessica Moore/AUS
2009 Ksenia Pervak/RUS def. Laura Robson/GBR
2010 Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Laura Robson/GBR
2011 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL def. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Taylor Townsend/USA def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Katerina Siniakova/CZE
2014 Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS def. Jana Fett/CRO
2015 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK def. Katie Swan/GBR

AO: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
RG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
WI: Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
US: Daria Gavrilova, RUS
AO: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN
WI: Ashleigh Barty, AUS
AO: Grace Min, USA
AO: Taylor Townsend, USA
RG: Annika Beck, GER
WI: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
US: Samantha Crawford, USA
AO: Ana Konjuh, CRO
RG: Belinda Bencic, SUI
WI: Belinda Bencic, SUI
US: Ana Konjuh, CRO
AO: Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
RG: Darya Kasatkina, RUS
WI: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
US: Maria Bouzkova, CZE
AO: Tereza Mihalikova, SVK

A: Aniek Van Koot, NED (s); Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED (d)
R: Sabine Ellerbrock, GER (s); Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED (d)
W: - (s); Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED (d)
U: Aniek Van Koot, NED (s); Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED (d)
A: Sabine Ellerbrock, GER (s); Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR (d)
R: Yui Kamiji, JPN (s); Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR (d)
W: - (s); Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR (d)
U: Yui Kamiji, JPN (s); Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR (d)
A: Jiske Griffioen, NED (s); Kamiji/Whiley/ JPN/GBR (d)

*BACK-TO-BACK US/AO TITLES - since 1988*
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1992-93 Monica Seles
1993-94 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis
2002-03 Serena Williams
2003-04 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2008-09 Serena Williams
2010-11 Kim Clijsters
2014-15 Serena Williams

2005 Victoria Azarenka / Marina Erakovic, BLR/NZL
2006 Sharon Fichman / Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, CAN/RUS
2007 Evegniya Rodina / Arina Rodionova, RUS/RUS
2008 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova / Ksenia Lykina, RUS/RUS
2009 Christina McHale / Ajla Tomljanovic, USA/CRO
2010 Jana Cepelova / Chantal Skamlova, SVK/SVK
2011 An-Sophie Mestach / Demi Schuurs, BEL/NED
2012 Gabby Andrews / Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
2013 Ana Konjuh / Carol Zhao, CRO/CAN
2014 Anhelina Kalinina / Elizaveta Kulichkova, UKR/RUS
2015 Miriam Kolodziejova / Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE

**AO DOUBLES CHAMPIONS - since 2000**
2000 Lisa Raymond & Rennae Stubbs, USA/AUS
2001 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2002 Martina Hingis & Anna Kournikova, SUI/RUS
2003 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual & Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
2005 Svetlana Kuznetsova & Alicia Molik, RUS/AUS
2006 Yan Zi & Zheng Jie, CHN/CHN
2007 Cara Black & Liezel Huber, ZIM/RSA (now USA)
2008 Alona Bondarenko & Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR/UKR
2009 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2010 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2011 Gisela Dulko & Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
2012 Svetlana Kuznetsova & Vera Zvonareva, RUS/RUS
2013 Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2014 Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2015 Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE

2003 Bob Bryan & Mike Bryan
2004 Xavier Malisse & Olivier Rochus
2005 Jonas Bjorkman & Max Mirnyi
2006 Jonas Bjorkman & Max Mirnyi
2007 Mark Knowles & Daniel Nestor
2008 Pablo Cuevas & Luis Horna
2009 Lukas Dlouhy & Leander Paes
2010 Daniel Nestor & Nenad Zimonjic
2011 Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor
2012 Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor
2013 Bob Bryan & Mike Bryan
2014 Lukusz Kubot & Robert Lindstedt
2015 Simone Bolelli & Fabio Fognini

2007 Madison Brengle, USA
2008 Jessica Moore, AUS & Arantxa Rus, NED
2009 Ksenia Pervak, RUS
2010 Karolina & Kristyna Pliskova, CZE/CZE
2011 Japanese girls
2012 Taylor Townsend, USA
2013 Ana Konjuh, CRO
2014 Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
2015 Tereza Mihalikova, SVK

TOP QUALIFIER: Renata Voracova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Genie Bouchard/CAN
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Renata Voracova/CZE def. #17 Zhu Lin/CHN 5-7/7-6(5)/6-2 (saved MP in 2nd set)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS d. (Q) Alexandra Panova/RUS 6-1/4-6/7-5 (saved 2 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd. - Madison Keys/USA d. #4 Petra Kvitova/CZE 6-4/7-5
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): Nominee: WC Singles Final - J.Griffioen/NED d. #1 Y.Kamiji/JPN 6-3/7-5
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 4th Rd. - Madison Keys/USA d. #4 Petra Kvitova/CZE 6-4/7-5
FIRST VICTORY: Julia Goerges/GER (def. #32 Bencic/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Belinda Bencic/SUI (lost 1st Rd. to Goerges/GER)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: China (year after Li wins title, 1-5 in 1st Round)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Chang Kai-Chen/TPE, Oceane Dodin/FRA & Irina Falconi/USA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Casey Dellacqua, Jarmila Gajdosova, Samantha Stosur & Alja Tomljanovic (all 2nd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
IT (??): [Madisons] Madison Keys/USA & Madison Brengle/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
CRASH & BURN: #5 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. vs. qualifier Hradecka/CZE; one of eight seeds to lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Maria Sharapova/RUS (2nd Rd.: saved 2 MP vs. Panova/RUS)
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): Venus Williams/USA Additional Nominee: Hingis/SUI
LADY OF THE EVENING: Genie Bouchard/CAN (2-0 in night session matches on MCA, with her Army serenading her from the stands)
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hingis/SUI; Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE)
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Tereza Mihalikova/SVK

All for Day 13. More tomorrow.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

AO 12 - Two for the Ro(a)d

Well, it's the day before the day in Melbourne.

But the day before just another in a long line of days in the career-long dance between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, or the one before a major disruption in the Force?

We'll soon find out, so I thought I'd put together an impromptu "History of the Series" in links form, as I've actually been able to chronicle -- sometimes with more words, sometimes with less -- every single one of the eighteen previous meetings between Serena and Maria:

2004 Miami 4th Rd. - Serena 6-4/6-3 ("A Broken Nail, Hotpants & a Title")
2004 Wimbledon Final - Sharapova 6-1/6-4 ("The Passion of the Supernova")
2004 WTA Chsp. Final - Sharapova 4-6/6-2/6-4 ("Oh, to be 17...and Backspin's Player of the Year")
2005 Australian Open SF - Serena 2-6/7-5/8-6 ("Melbourne's Soul Survivor")

2007 Australian Final - Serena 6-1/6-2 ("The Demolition Heard 'round the World")
2007 Miami 4th Rd. - Serena 6-1/6-1 ("It's Gotta Be the Earrings")
2008 Charleston QF - Serena 7-5/4-6/6-1 ("Shake It Up (Scrambled Backspin & Eggs)")
2010 Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Serena 7-6(9)/6-4 ("Wimbledon Day 7: "Some Nice Moments, But Nothing to Text Your Cousin About")
2011 Stanford QF - Serena 6-1/6-3 ("Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?")
2012 Madrid QF - Serena 6-1/6-3 ("Ridiculatis Expectatious")
2012 Olympics Final - Serena 6-0/6-1 ("Dancing with Herself")
2012 WTA Chsp. Final - Serena 6-4/6-3 ("Awesome Punctuation.")
2013 Doha SF - Serena 6-3/6-2 ("V is for Viktory")
2013 Miami Final - Serena 4-6/6-3/6-0 ("Maria Tries But Fails to Hide the Daylight From the Sun")
2013 Madrid Final - Serena 6-1/6-4 ("Gracious, Madrid")
2013 Roland Garros Final - Serena 6-4/6-4 ("Serena Loves Paris in the Springtime, and Paris (finally) Loves Her Back")
2014 Brisbane SF - Serena 6-2/7-6(7) ("Act 1, Scene 1 (2014)")
2014 Miami SF - Serena 6-4/6-3 ("Serenativity Lite Stays Supreme in South Florida")

Meeting #19 could provide Williams with her nineteenth career slam win, or it could be the occasion for the potential "rebirth" of the Supernova. Either way, the twisty, twisted rivalry between arguably the two most celebrated, historically important figures (though the likes of Na, Venus & Justine would get quite a few votes, too) in women's tennis over the last fifteen years will get a new chapter. Or at least an additional sentence.

We shall see.

...well, the women's singles draw in Melbourne finally has a day off, so I'm (mostly) going to take one, too, and go with an early post.

There are some matches of note on Day 12, though.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands', the only American other than Serena still in line to possibly walk away with a title at this Australian Open in the traditional disciplines (Quad WC #1 David Wagner is still alive in the singles and doubles, as well), will be trying to add another chapter to her comeback from hip surgery as she joins with Lucie Safarova to play the doubles final against Chan Yung-Jan & Zheng Jie. This is BMS' second straight final in '15, having won the Sydney title with Sania Mirza in Week 2.

Speaking of the Indian Princess, Mirza & Bruno Soares will take their U.S. Open mixed title-winning resume into today's semifinal against Kristina Mladenovic & Daniel Nestor, who are the reigning AO mixed champs (hmmm, it seems that I, like Stan Wawrinka, seem to prefer the "reigning champ" phrase over "defending champ"... it seems more substantial). Martina Hingis & Leander Paes will face Hsieh Su-Wei & Pablo Cuevas in the other semi.

Also today: the junior singles semifinals and doubles final (Waffle Greet Minnen is the only girl playing in both), as well as the wheelchair doubles final, as Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley attempt to win their fifth consecutive slam title and defend their first major title.

The only major singles action is the men's semi between Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka, with the winner facing Andy Murray on Sunday in the Scot's fourth AO final in six years (he's 0-3 so far).

...DAY 12 LIKE #1: It's hard to get upset with Andy these days.

...DAY 12 "And Caro is rooting for...?":

Good job so far @serenawilliams at the @australianopen! 1 more to go!! Must have been the training in December ?? #tb

Et billede slået op af Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) den


...DAY 12 "I hope she remembered to pack her hiking boots": she's going to really need them now. She's got quite a mountain to climb. Over ten years so far, and she's still not reached the peak.

The feeling after zipping up the last and final bag! #australia #herewecome #cantwait

Une photo publiée par Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) le


...DAY 12 AND-DON'T-FORGET-HER: still the best lefty around...

...DAY 12 LIKE #2: Ah, memories. And look who's second from the right.

...DAY 12 LIKE #3: Amelie! Amelie! Amelie!

Can you imagine if Murray reached his first final at Roland Garros this spring?

...and, finally, well, what can you say?

I totally get it right about now, Garbi.

Vika is so en... err, I mean IN Vogue.

#TBT from Vogue PS.... #Monaco #vogue #soseriousbecauseitsVogue

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #4 Stan Wawrinka/SUI
#6 Andy Murray/GBR def. #7 Tomas Berdych/CZE

Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) vs. #14 YJ.Chan/J.Zheng (TPE/CHN)

Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA) vs. Herbert/Mahut (FRA/FRA)

#1 Mirza/Soares (IND/BRA) vs. #3 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN)
#7 Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND) vs. SW.Hsieh/Cuevas (TPE/URU)

#14 Katie Swan/GBR vs. #5 Dalma Galfi/HUN
Greet Minnen/BEL vs. Tereza Mihalikova/SVK

#1 Roman Safiullin/RUS vs. Djurabeck Karimov/UZB
#7 Seong-chan Hong/KOR vs. #16 Akira Santillan/AUS

Hobnarski/Minnen (GER/BEL) vs. #2 Kolodziejova/Vondrousova (CZE/CZE)

Delaney/Polmans (AUS/AUS) vs. #8 Hurkacz/Molcan (POL/SVK)

#1 Yui Kamiji/JPN vs. Jiske Griffioen/NED

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN vs. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA

#1 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley (JPN/GBR) vs. #2 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek Van Koot (NED/NED)

#1 Shingo Kunieda/Stephane Houdet (JPN/FRA) vs. Gordon Reid/Gustavo Fernandez (GBR/ARG)

*#1 vs. #2 MATCH-UPS since 2006*
2006 Antwerp Final - #2 Amelie Mauresmo d. #1 Kim Clijsters
2008 Sydney Final - #1 Justine Henin d. #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova
2010 WTA Chsp. SF - #1 Caroline Wozniacki d. #2 Vera Zvonareva
2012 Indian Wells Final - #1 Victoria Azarenka d. #2 Maria Sharapova
2012 Stuttgart Final - #2 Maria Sharapova d. #1 Victoria Azarenka
2012 Beijing Final - #1 Victoria Azarenka d. #2 Maria Sharapova
2012 WTA Chsp. SF - #2 Maria Sharapova d. #1 Victoria Azarenka
2013 Doha Final - #1 Victoria Azarenka d. #2 Serena Williams
2013 Miami Final - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Maria Sharapova
2013 Madrid Final - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Maria Sharapova
2013 Roland Garros Final - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Maria Sharapova
2013 Cincinnati Final - #2 Victoria Azarenka d. #1 Serena Williams
2013 U.S. Open - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Victoria Azarenka
2014 Brisbane Final - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Victoria Azarenka
2014 Miami Final - #1 Serena Williams d. #2 Li Na
2015 Australian Open Final - #1 Serena Williams vs. #2 Maria Sharapova

TOP QUALIFIER: Renata Voracova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Genie Bouchard/CAN
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Renata Voracova/CZE def. #17 Zhu Lin/CHN 5-7/7-6(5)/6-2 (saved MP in 2nd set)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS d. (Q) Alexandra Panova/RUS 6-1/4-6/7-5 (saved 2 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd. - Madison Keys/USA d. #4 Petra Kvitova/CZE 6-4/7-5
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: Nominee: 4th Rd. - Keys/USA d. #4 Kvitova/CZE 6-4/7-5
FIRST VICTORY: Julia Goerges/GER (def. #32 Bencic/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Belinda Bencic/SUI (lost 1st Rd. to Goerges/GER)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: China (year after Li wins title, 1-5 in 1st Round)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Chang Kai-Chen/TPE, Oceane Dodin/FRA & Irina Falconi/USA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Casey Dellacqua, Jarmila Gajdosova, Samantha Stosur & Alja Tomljanovic (all 2nd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
IT (??): [Madisons] Madison Keys/USA & Madison Brengle/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
CRASH & BURN: #5 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. vs. qualifier Hradecka/CZE; one of eight seeds to lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Maria Sharapova/RUS (2nd Rd.: saved 2 MP vs. Panova/RUS)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Genie Bouchard/CAN (2-0 in night session matches on MCA, with her Army serenading her from the stands)
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Mirza/IND; Hingis/SUI; Mladenovic/FRA; Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE); YJ.Chan/TPE; Kamiji/Whiley (JPN/GBR)
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominee: K.Swan/GBR; D.Galfi/HUN; Minnen/BEL

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.