Formerly riddled with upsets and surprise semifinalists, WTA draws grew relatively predictable in 2012 as a small group of women won virtually every marquee tournament. That trend continued when Azarenka defended her Australian Open crown after several young stars rose and fell. In Doha, more of the familiar suspects look likely to shine. Read a preview of the draw, quarter by quarter.
First quarter: Just as she did in Melbourne, Azarenka may need to defend her title to retain her #1 ranking with the second-ranked Serena Williams anchoring the opposite half of the draw. Also like the Australian Open, the medium-speed hard courts in Doha suit the top seed’s style more than any other surface, and one must feel sanguine about her semifinal hopes in this weak section. Several of the women surrounding her played Fed Cup over the past weekend, when most looked pedestrian at best against modest competition. Although she upset Azarenka once and nearly twice in 2012, Cibulkova extended a discouraging span that started with her double bagel in the Sydney final by retiring on the verge of victory in Fed Cup. Bojana Jovanovski and Daniela Hantuchova collaborated on a hideous comedy of errors this Saturday, while the sixth-seeded Errani faces the challenge of transitioning from the clay of the Italy-USA tie. This section could implode quickly, which might open a door for the rising Laura Robson to build on her Australian upset of Kvitova.
Second quarter: Two women of Polish descent bookend a section that contains two former #1s who have sunk outside the top 10. Having withdrawn from Fed Cup with a shoulder injury, Ivanovic remained in the Doha draw as she hopes to erase the memories of a first-round upset in Pattaya City, where she held the top seed. The Serb likely would collide with Australian Open nemesis Radwanska as early as the third round, however, so she may gain little more from Doha than she did last year. An all-German encounter beckons at the base of the quarter between the last two Paris Indoors champions: the fifth-seeded Kerber and Mona Barthel. Meeting the winner in the same round as the projected Ivanovic-Radwanska clash is world #11 Wozniacki, who fell just short of an Australian Open quarterfinal in a promising end to an otherwise miserable January. Kerber stifled her on multiple surfaces last year, though, while struggling to solve Radwanska’s consistency.
Third quarter: A 2008 champion at this tournament, the third-seeded Sharapova eyes a comfortable start to the tournament against a qualifier or wildcard. Rolling through Melbourne until her competition stiffened suddenly, she may find an opponent worthy of her steel in Sloane Stephens, although her fellow Australian Open semifinalist withdrew from Fed Cup this weekend. Looming on the opposite side is an encore of the 2011 Melbourne marathon between Kuznetsova and Schiavone, separated just by a qualifier and the dormant Bartoli (also a Fed Cup absentee). The Russian returned to relevance with an outstanding January considering the sub-50 ranking with which she started it before reaching quarterfinals at Sydney and the Australian Open. Her athleticism and rising confidence should serve her well against the Schiavone-Bartoli winner and against the eighth-seeded Stosur in the following round. Still struggling to regain her rhythm after ankle surgery during the offseason, the Aussie probably cannot defend her runner-up points in the vicinity of two multiple-major champions from Russia.
Fourth quarter: Among the questions looming over this tournament is the health of Serena Williams, the prohibitive favorite in Melbourne until multiple injuries overtook her. Serena probably would not participate in an event like Doha unless she felt confident in her condition, however, so one should take her entry at face value for now. As she has reminded rivals over the last several months, few can break her serve on a non-clay surface when she is healthy, and she should overpower clay specialists in the early rounds like Medina Garrigues and Vinci. Of greater suspense is the identity of the woman who will emerge from the section occupied by Kvitova, who clings to the seventh seed in a manner far from convincing. Although playing a Fed Cup tie on home soil may have boosted her spirits, she has not strung together victories at a WTA tournament since last August. Often troubled by the task of defeating a compatriot, she could meet Fed Cup teammate Safarova in the third round. Before then, Beijing nemesis Suarez Navarro lurks in a challenge for her consistency. And Russian veteran Nadia Petrova adds an entertaining mixture of power and petulance to a section full of fiery personalities.
Come back on Friday to read a semifinal preview!
January 24, 2013 — Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic is known nearly as much for her on court game as her off court relationships. Her past love escapades have included tennis player Fernando Verdasco and golfer Adam Scott, and now it seems she has found a new love match.
Ivanovic was caught by paparazzi getting intimate with a “mystery man” on the beaches of Australia earlier this month, and was also spotted arriving in Melbourne with the same fellow for the start of the Australian Open — he’s in the white shirt in the video below.
The lucky lad’s name is Mark Stillitano, a 26-year-old former tennis player hailing from Monaco. The Novak Djokovic fans in the audience may recognize Stillitano as he has often been seen traveling with the world No. 1 as part of his team. His exact role is unclear but Stillitano may just be a good friend of Djokovic’s who travels with and supports his comrade on the road.
Not much else is known about Ivanovic’s good looking and stylish beau and that’s perhaps a good thing. His relative anonymity could serve their romance well as Ivanovic would be wise to steer clear of any more high-profile relationships. She needs a good stabilizing force and let’s hope her choice to date one of Djokovic’s friends is a sign of a healthy relationship going into the future.
Oh, and here’s one more photo of Stillitano for good measure. She seems to have a type, no?
UPDATE: Seems we now know a little more about Stillitano. He is British-born, coming from a fairly wealthy family, and his mother sells elite villas on the French Riviera. Stillitano himself works for “Bombardier,” which is headquartered in Montreal, Canada but has sites in over 25 countries, including Monaco. The firms is the world’s only manufacturer of both planes and trains. Ah, so all those trips with Ana are actually for “business.” I see.
(h/t to @returnwinner and @macakdragi)
Featured in the Rod Laver Arena night session was world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who put her undefeated 2013 record on the line against former #1 Ana Ivanovic. Their match offered a contrast in styles between the first-strike power of the Serb and the versatility of the Pole, who recorded her fifth straight victory in their rivalry with a generally convincing 6-2 6-4 success.
As expected, Ivanovic looked tentative in the first game on her serve. She looked uncertain both at the net and the baseline, although she did win an entertaining all-court rally to save a break point before consecutive netted forehands surrendered the opening break. Holding at love with a backhand down the line, Radwanska kept the early pressure on her opponent, who responded with a love hold highlighted by some fine net play and her own backhand winner.
The latter seemed an encouraging sign for Ana, who normally produces unremarkable tennis from that wing. Two break points came and went in the next game, created by Radwanska backhand errors and saved by Ivanovic forehand errors on relatively routine balls. Four games deep, the match had not quite found its rhythm.
Nor did Ivanovic ever find her rhythm for more than a few points at a time in that set. While she held easily for a second straight time to reach 2-3, Radwanska swept the next three games with clean, consistent tennis designed to exploit the errors leaking from across the net in increasing quantities. Well-placed first serves extricated her from a tight service game, and she broke Ivanovic when the latter committed an egregious double fault that stemmed in part from her decision to chase wayward ball tosses on both first and second serves. Serving out the set without trouble, Radwanska continued to capitalize on Ivanovic’s forehand. Normally her greatest weapon, that shot misfired on point after point, including several dismal misses into the middle of the net.
A forehand sprayed into the doubles alley allowed the fourth seed to start the next set with a service break, which she consolidated as the trajectory of the match stayed firmly on course. Ivanovic did hold serve in the next game with forehands that finally did find their targets. Approaching the net successfully, she did what she had struggled to do for most of the first set in taking time away from Radwanska. That miniature momentum shift trickled into the next game, when she earned three more break points.
Determined not to allow her talented opponent a flicker of hope, Radwanska snuffed out each of the break points with confidence. Yet Ivanovic did not let her off the hook too easily, creating two more break points. Remarkably, the Pole outserved the Serb despite the conventional wisdom that she would find herself at a disadvantage in that department. She saved the last two break points with poise and held her last two service games at love, clinching the match with consecutive aces.
While Ivanovic raised her level distinctly in the second set after the weak start, she could not find the consistency to challenge the fourth seed as too many errors spilled from her forehand in particular. The Serb also failed to match Radwanska in the mental area of the game, losing the majority of the extended rallies as the Pole predictably outmaneuvered and out-thought her. Still, she reached the second week for the fifth time in the last six majors, which will further her campaign to rejoin the top 10.
For Radwanska, meanwhile, the victory extended a 13-match winning streak to start the season during which she has not dropped a set. She next will face Li Na in a quarterfinal that repeats their meeting in Sydney last week, won by Radwanska in Li’s only loss of the year so far.
At the start of the second week, all of the singles matches shift to the three show courts. We organize our daily preview a bit differently as a result, following the order of play for each stadium. From here to the end of the 2013 Australian Open, you can find a preview of every singles match in Wizards of Oz.
Rod Laver Arena:
Kerber vs. Makarova: When two left-handed women last met on Rod Laver, the match unwound deep into a final set. Viewers can expect less drama but higher quality from a meeting between the world #5 and a Russian seeking her second straight quarterfinal here. In this round last year, Makarova recorded probably the best win of her career in upsetting Serena, and she rekindled some of those memories with a three-set upset of Bartoli. Advancing through the draw more routinely, Kerber reached the second week here for the first time and will look to exploit the ebbs and flows in her opponent’s more volatile game. Makarova will aim to take time away from the German counterpuncher, in part by opening the court with wide serves behind which she can step inside the baseline. In a close match, Kerber’s outstanding three-set record and her opponent’s relative frailty under pressure could prove decisive. The German won all three of their 2012 meetings in straight sets.
Ferrer vs. Nishikori: Despite his clear superiority in ranking and overall accomplishments, the fourth seed might feel a bit anxious heading into this match. Nishikori has won two of their three previous matches, both at significant tournaments. More notable than his victory over Ferrer at the Olympics was a five-set thriller that he won from at the US Open, which introduced the Japanese star to an international audience four years ago. Chronically beset by injuries, Nishikori overcame a knee problem early in his first match and has won nine straight sets. As he pursues his second straight quarterfinal here, like Makarova, he cannot afford to encounter any physical issues in a grinding encounter filled with protracted rallies and few outright winners. Ferrer wore down Baghdatis, a former nemesis here, in a routine third-round clash as his level rose with the competition, but now it rises again.
Sharapova vs. Flipkens: Perhaps benefiting from the guidance of retired compatriot Clijsters, Flipkens has reached the second week at a major for the first time. Still, she defeated nobody of greater significance than Zakopalova to reach that stage, and it is difficult to see any area of her game that can trouble the rampaging Russian. Following her two double bagels, Sharapova conceded just four games to Venus in a highly anticipated encounter that turned into a demonstration of just how crisply she has started the season. The Belgian’s best chance may lie in the hope that the world #2 enters this match a little complacent or satiated with her statement triumph, not likely from someone of her professionalism. Their only previous hard-court meeting, in Luxembourg ten years ago, bears no relevance to what might unfold here.
Ivanovic vs. Radwanska: Early in their careers, the Serbian former #1 hit through the Pole’s defenses with her serve-forehand combinations. As Ivanovic has grown more erratic with time, the balance of power has shifted towards Radwanska with three straight victories in 2009-10 before a retirement from the former in their most recent meeting. All of those matches have stayed very close, though, which can give the Serb as she realizes that she will have chances against a player who will not overpower her. Stalling in the fourth round of majors for most of the last few years, Ivanovic has suffered a long string of losses to top-four opponents. Currently undefeated in 2013 with two titles already, Radwanska has shown greater discipline and steadiness here (no surprise, really) than the flustered former #1, who has oscillated wildly in form. Expect the fourth seed to outlast and outwit Ivanovic in an entertaining battle.
Djokovic vs. Wawrinka: Not exactly known as a steely competitor, the Swiss #2 has acquired a reputation for folding at majors against elite opponents—not just Federer, but Djokovic and Murray has well. He has lost his last ten meetings against the defending champion, last winning in 2006, although three times since then he has won the opening set. Demolishing his first trio of victims without dropping serve, Djokovic has not shown any vulnerability that might offer Wawrinka a reason to believe. Granted, the latter has not lost a set here either, but a matchup with the world #1 in a night session on Rod Laver Arena seems like the type of environment calculated to bring out the worst from the Swiss and something near the best from the Serb. Parallel to Sharapova and Flipkens, one struggles to imagine any part of the underdog’s game that can threaten the favorite consistently.
Almagro vs. Tipsarevic: Never before have they met on a hard court, discounting an Abu Dhabi exhibition. To no surprise, the Spaniard defeated the Serb comfortably when they met at Roland Garros last year, the most favorable surface for the former and the least favorable for the latter. Almagro remains almost as lethal a threat on hard courts as on clay, producing a handful of fine results in Melbourne and New York behind an impressive serve and plenty of groundstroke first-strike power. Both men can strike winners down the line from either groundstroke wing, nor will either hesitate in attempting a bold shot at any moment. That factor, combined with their proximity to each other in the rankings, bodes well for a tightly contested match, as does their mixture of impressive and unimpressive results in the first week.
Li vs. Goerges: If Almagro and Tipsarevic never have met on a hard court, this pair of women never has collided at all. Whereas Li rolled through the first week without dropping a set, Goerges needed to claw through a long three-setter in her opener against Dushevina and salvage a third-round epic against Zheng after the Chinese served for the match. Despite the accumulated fatigue, that resilience under pressure might aid her in a match likely to feature several twists and turns between two streaky women. Under Henin’s former mentor, stern taskmaster Carlos Rodriguez, Li has hinted at improving her consistency from one tournament to the next. Starting the year with a title and a Sydney semifinal, she enters this match with an 11-1 record in 2013. On the other hand, Goerges has wobbled through a long span of the unpredictability typical of WTA Germans, leaving her stagnant until this week.
Margaret Court Arena:
Anderson vs. Berdych: The first South African to reach the second week of a major since Wayne Ferreira ten years ago, Anderson did it the hard way by winning the last two sets of a five-setter against Verdasco. Few players have started the year more impressively than he has, marching from a strong week at the Hopman Cup to the Sydney final and now a week in which he twice has won matches after losing the first set. But Anderson may find himself eyeing adversity again when he meets a man who won all four of their matches last year. The last two of those reached final sets, offering him some hope in this contest of crackling serves, ferocious forehands, and meager backhands, which should produce repeated holds and perhaps some tiebreaks. Berdych has dominated the opposition through three rounds with the relentless focus that he does not always show, although he has not faced anyone of a quality approaching the South African.
By Jesse Pentecost
There was a strange, capricious energy to Melbourne this morning. Yesterday’s cruel heat had hardly lost its serrated edge during the night – it was still 35C at 11pm when Petra Kvitova and Laura Robson really got down to hacking at each other in earnest – and it wasn’t until breakfast this morning that the blade was truly dulled. A fitful breeze arrived, ostensibly a cool southerly but really coming at you from everywhere, often with baleful intent.
The first thing I saw upon arriving at Melbourne Park was a sudden gust pluck up a courtside umbrella, leaving the others untouched, and launch it into the back of a nearby man’s head. As far as I could see he hadn’t done anything to offend any nearby deities: he was simply watching Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty hit up. (It could be that he wasn’t demonstrating sufficiently patriotic awe, or had been indulging in impure thoughts of Jason Stoltenberg.) It was a heavy umbrella, and he seemed disappointed that there was no one upon whom to focus his ire. The skyscrapers of downtown Melbourne loomed silent in the middle distance. The clouds tumbled in.
The real answer, I hazard, is that Gael Monfils last night finally ruptured the space-time continuum. (Long-time readers will know that this is my favorite continuum.) Even at the best of times reality struggles to stay with Monfils when he opens the throttle, but as he commenced that inspired sequence of aces to bring up match points and double faults to lose them, the threadbare fabric of the universe finally wore through. Nothing made sense anymore.
This is also my explanation for how I found myself sitting in Hisense Arena watching Agnieszka Radwańska. Certainly no rational decision led me there. As she commenced her warm-up the scoreboard still displayed Monfils’ winning score from last night. As ever Poland’s highest-ranked player set about comprehensively demonstrating the old adage that the person who hits the ball in last is the person who wins the point. Heather Watson, in a recalcitrant mood, was intent on disproving this well-understood rule, but to no avail. History will show that Radwańska’s approach worked better, assuming the goal was to win the match. She won the match.
I toddled out for a turn around the grounds. Serena Williams was launching balls at an improbably handsome young fellow whose identity I never ascertained. I tried but failed to quell the ungenerous thought that Williams, being tennis royalty, will only hit up with tennis players who look like models, if not models who play tennis. A large audience had assembled to watch this unfold. By the time I’d completed a circuit of the complex they’d relocated to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s court, otherwise known as Court 23. The Frenchman was fending off groundstrokes from Thanasi Kokkinakis, and inspiring slogans from Roger Rasheed. Nearby Milos Raonic was nodding his head to serving advice from Galo Blanco. Like I said, it was all a bit strange.
I re-entered Hisense, mainly because it was there, beating Ana Ivanović and Jelena Janković by mere seconds. Their match was probably the best thing I saw all day, conducted in fine spirits, although stray patches of Monfils Madness danced in the air. If you turned your head quickly, you could just about glimpse them, sparkling gaily. As she lead 5/2 30-0 in the first set, Ivanović was enmeshed in one, and lost fifteen consecutive points to trail 5/5 40-0. Then she won another handful of points to break, and eventually serve out the set. The second set was steadier, as the innate lethality of her forehand was matched by steadiness (and occasional virtuosity) on the other wing. Janković, on the other hand, only looked dangerous when she could launch a backhand up the line, which is a perilous shot to live by.
Out in the grounds the nationalist frenzy of the first two days had largely died away, mostly because the Australian players had all lost, although the start of the mixed doubles competition had inspired the flag-wavers to a resurgence of hope. Chris Guccione and Bojana Bousic saved four match points to push Anabel Medina Garrigues and Bruno Soares to a match tiebreak, before falling meekly. The flags fell limp, and the green and gold sombreros drooped in disappointment. Over on Court 6 the mood was morose, as two local doubles teams fell to superior European doubles exponents, including a reunited pairing of Sergiy Stakhovsky and Mikhail Youzhny.
A swelling roar issued from Margaret Court Arena as Julien Benneteau secured the early break from Janko Tipsarević, but I opted instead for Showcourt 3, which was due to host the fiercely anticipated dust-up between Nicolas Almagro and Jerzy Janowicz. Through a tight first set we learned that the Spaniard can more or less match the giant Pole on serve, even in the fitfully prankish breeze, and that what the Polish fans lack in vocal prowess and breadth of repertoire they make up for in devotion and volume. Sadly, it was noise that saw a number of them removed by the police, as they failed fully to heed an official warning to stop rattling the hoardings quite so enthusiastically. It would be wrong to point to this as the moment that Janowicz proved unable to stay with his more loftily-ranked opponent, since he was already trailing by two sets and break. Nonetheless, until that point Janowicz had played Almagro quite close. After that he spiraled away. At least by reaching the third round he has played to his seeding. Almagro will next face Tipsarević, who soon after sealed his second straight five-set win. Expect another long one.
There was nothing more to be done. I’d put it off for long enough. It was time to return to the scene of Monfils’ crime. Hisense Arena beckoned, which is a fairly difficult gesture for a large sports stadium to make. Perhaps I imagined it. It had been a long day. Within, Fernando Verdasco and Kevin Anderson were commencing their fifth set. As I took my seat, both enervated and anxious, I glanced to my left. For a moment, I thought perhaps I glimpsed sparkles, one last pocket of madness in the air. Then I looked at the court, and I knew that madness was precisely what I’d seen.
By Lauren Smyczek
Now that the Australian Open is in full force, it’s time to step back from the scorelines and enjoy the players’ on court fashions a bit, shall we?
Though tennis players are typically far more concerned with their job to win matches than with their outfits, the same won’t deny that it’s important to feel comfortable on court. Some of the top players even hand-pick their colors and styles with a team of experts, so let’s see what all the buzz is about at the start of the tennis season.
Maria Sharapova: The day dress is, to put it simply, underwhelming. The silhouette is a bit skimpy on top, and looks more like a slip than the finished product. The yellow (which looks a little green against the blue courts) and light gray combination is decidedly pretty.
However, Sharapova could have gone for a different hue more along the lines of her orange David Koma dress from the “Sugarpova” launch. That color would have stood its ground against the mighty azure blue of the Melbourne courts. (The Koma dress looked like an art deco mermaid goddess dress. Complete with fin-pleats on the hips. Stunning choice unlike this Nike dress.)
Caroline Wozniacki: The young Dane continues her experimenting with Stella McCartney by adidas and she’s getting really close. From the tragic early days of McCartney’s tennis design, things are finally headed in the right direction. Though as a fashion aficionado, I have to admit that Stella McCartney is one of my favorite designers but her tennis/athletic line never quite resembled her ready-to-wear line. If it did, merchandise would be flying off the rack from popularity. If only McCartney herself were more involved with the tennis line design process … sigh.
This dress though is pretty, if maybe a little understated. The color sits nicely, but timidly, next to the blue courts. The pleats on the back are just the right touch though. And it’s good to see Wozniacki has gotten away from the likes of her 2010 look.
Serena Williams: In charge as always, Serena’s purple and orange ensemble is strong — as in athletically strong. But the color combo is lacking pop and freshness. Serena looks lethal and beautiful no matter what she wears, but she practically blends right into the backdrop in the photo below. It’s like playing the female version of “Where’s Waldo?”
But be not dismayed, the orange shoes ensure us we won’t miss her, and they just might be stealing the show here.
Venus Williams: Venus never disappoints with the extravagance of her on court clothing choices, and this outfit from her own Eleven line is mature. Her hair though is what really caught my attention, with the streaks perfectly matching the watercolor design of her dress.
Overall, however, the ensemble is lacking the energy of what you expect from a brand new 2013 season that the Australian Open offers, and it looks more like an off-court summer dress. But this is definitely a grown-up Venus and that’s refreshing. And her necklace is really lovely. She has a lot of poise and grace out there, and the ensembles are living up to that.
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Polish beauty went for a fairly strong color, but the silhouette proved to be quite boring. She is fresh-faced, has a flawless figure, and could probably pull of just about anything. How about some risk-taking once in a while, Lotto?
Ana Ivanovic: Just stunning. But she would look good wearing a brown sack. The yellow and light gray combination isn’t that interesting though, and as you can see, too many players are wearing lemon yellow. I wish she had chosen a color that played with the color of the courts more rather than outright fighting the blue. She epitomizes the balance between ultra-feminine and incredibly athletic. Yet I wish adidas would put her in something by Stella McCartney.
“Rivals,” my high school gym teacher once said, “always hate each other. Mac does not like PC. Coke does not like Pepsi. Competition makes the world go round!”
Had he been a tennis fan at the time, he might have added Serbian rivals Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic to his list of those between whom little love was lost.
In the mid-to-late 2000s, Ivanovic and Jankovic were the fire and ice of the WTA Tour’s elite. Ana was the big-hitter with an on-court effusiveness that was as jarring as it was endearing. Not to say that the counter-punching Jankovic was reserved; she saved her quirky personality and for the pressroom, where she gave quotes that continue to defy explanation.
Both hailed from the war torn city of Belgrade. Both became famous in their home country. Both wanted to be the best.
With few other compatriots, isolation combined with a singular goal could have bonded these young women together. The Italian and Czech Fed Cup teams are shining examples of on-court camaraderie in an individual sport. Off the court? The guest list at Elena Dementieva’s wedding was a “who’s who” of Russian tennis (Vera Dushevina caught the bouquet).
Yet, there is something about countries that boast only two talented players. Perhaps that it serves as a microcosm for the game itself, the idea of a dual between two players and only one can emerge victorious, intensifies what could otherwise be a friendly rivalry. Whatever the reason, like Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin before them, the relationship between Ivanovic and Jankovic was always cool at best. Never overtly friendly, the two had ways of reminding fans and media where the two women stood with one another.
After scoring a win over her rival in Madrid a few years ago, Jelena was seen mocking Ana’s signature fist pump:
Upon seeing it, Ana quipped, “…Sport doesn’t build character, it shows it.” Far from contrite, Jelena defended the gesture and struck out against players who fist pump “in the player’s face, and especially after not winning a point [but] after your opponent missed an easy ball, I don’t think that’s fair play.”
For all of their differences, Ana and Jelena ended up having two fairly similar careers.
At their peaks, they fought for the No. 1 ranking at the 2008 French Open. Jankovic squandered a third set lead and Ivanovic went on to win her only Slam title. From there, she promptly entered a slump that persists to this day; she has only made one Slam quarterfinal in the last (going on) five years.
Jankovic eventually wrested the top spot from her rival and went on a late-season tear to finish the year atop the rankings. A move to change her game in order to better compete for majors saw her not only remain slamless, but also caused her to tumble from the game’s elite.
This year’s Australian Open saw the two play one another for the first time at a Slam since that fateful French Open encounter. Far from the penultimate round, the rivals were seeded outside the top 10 and competing for a spot in the fourth round, where the winner would take on the much-higher ranked Agnieszka Radwanska.
Ostensibly, the stakes were as high as ever as each woman strives to retain relevancy on a Tour that has moved on without them. Once highly marketable stars, the rivals were relegated to Hisense Arena for a competitive, though more lighthearted, battle. While showing flashes of their former brilliance, the two shared a laugh several times during Ivanovic’s two-set victory. With that, the “Serbian Sisters” wordlessly confirmed the news that they had buried the hatchet.
Reflecting on their frosty past, Jankovic mused, “Back then we were competing for No. 1 and we both wanted what we never achieved and it was different circumstances.” In the heat of the moment, it was easy to see things less clearly, but in retrospect, Jelena poignantly describes the fate of the rivalry with her compatriot, one that was never truly realized.
But rather than dwelling on what might have been, it is comforting to see the two former foes together, now able to laugh and reminisce about their time at the top.
A plethora of intriguing encounters awaits audiences as the third round begins at the Australian Open. Foremost among them are two in the women’s draw, which we include in our latest preview.
Kerber vs. Keys (Rod Laver Arena): Long hovering on the horizon, the 17-year-old Madison Keys has soared into the consciousness of the tennis world by winning four main-draw matches in the last two weeks. Moreover, she has won most of them decisively, including routs of top-20 opponent Safarova in Sydney and the 30th-seeded Paszek here. The teenager’s serve could prove a crucial weapon against Kerber, whose superior steadiness and experience should prevail in rallies unless Keys can find a way to unsettle her, which she could with a strong start. Featured on the show court of a major for the first time, she seems more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the weight of the moment.
Li vs. Cirstea (RLA): Familiar with both rising and crumbling in spectacular style, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up split her two meetings with Cirstea at majors last year. Li defeated the heavy-hitting Romanian at Roland Garros but lost to her at Wimbledon before battling past her in a Cincinnati three-setter, so she will know what to expect. While Cirstea defeated Stosur in the first round here last year and can hope to capture that magic again, the moderately paced hard court in Australia would seem to favor Li’s more balanced game.
Sharapova vs. Williams (RLA): Scanning the WTA elite, one might not find two champions more similar in playing style than these two legends of first-strike tennis. Both Sharapova and Venus can hammer lethal missiles from both groundstroke wings, and both compete with the ferocity of women whose lungs illustrate their loathing for losing. Both have the ability to win free points in bunches with their serves, but both also can lose control of that shot beyond repair amidst cascades of double faults. Both have survived significant bouts of adversity, Sharapova by battling back from a career-threatening shoulder surgery and Venus by battling back from a career-threatening illness. While the American has accumulated a richer title haul, the Russian owns the more balanced resume.
Their record reflects much of the above, neatly balanced at 4-3 in Sharapova’s favor but skewed 4-1 in her favor away from Wimbledon, where Venus has claimed her greatest achievements. Not dropping a single game through her first two matches, Maria can expect a steep elevation in her opponent’s quality and must come as prepared to elevate her own quality as she did five years ago here against Davenport. Like her sister, Venus has produced some of her most dazzling surges when least expected, and she has looked quietly impressive if less overtly overpowering so far.
Ivanovic vs. Jankovic (Hisense): Those who appreciate tennis largely from an aesthetic perspective may wish to cover their eyes in a pairing of two women who sprayed disheveled errors to every corner of the court in their previous matches. Meanwhile, those who fancy their tennis served (or double-faulted) with a dollop of drama should enjoy this battle between two countrywomen who have feuded chronically but bitterly. The superior player by most measures, Ivanovic has dominated their head-to-head as her versatile forehand has hit through Jankovic’s baseline defense. So high do the emotions run in these matches, though, that one never knows what to expect from one point to the next.
Djokovic vs. Stepanek (RLA): In addition to their five-set epic at the 2007 US Open, Stepanek has troubled the Serb on two other occasions. He won a set from him at Wimbledon last year by using his idiosyncratic style to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm. Even as his career has faded, Stepanek continues to revel in the spotlight and ended 2012 on a high note by winning the decisive match in Davis Cup. That momentum probably cannot lift him high enough to disturb Djokovic in Australia, where he looks as dominant as ever in all facets of his game.
Ferrer vs. Baghdatis (RLA): The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, Ferrer can falter at times with the distractions caused by partisan crowds. Supported vociferously by Melbourne legions of Greeks and Cypriots, Baghdatis hopes to revive the memories of his charge to the 2006 final. At this tournament two years ago, he became the first man ever to win after losing the first two sets to Ferrer at a major, surprising in view of their relative fitness. The fourth seed looked vulnerable in stretches against an overmatched opponent in the last round, while Baghdatis did likewise in another mismatch. His flat, net-skimming groundstrokes should offer an intriguing contrast to Ferrer’s safer topspin.
Anderson vs. Verdasco (Hisense): Reprising their meeting at the Hopman Cup this month, this match pits a rising against a fading star. Like Baghdatis, Verdasco has failed to duplicate his breakthrough performance in Melbourne (a 2009 semifinal), and he should count himself fortunate to escape a five-setter to start the tournament. On the other hand, Anderson followed his strong results in Perth with a final in Sydney, where he showed poise under pressure. Expect plenty of quick holds as each man struggles to crack the other’s serve.
Benneteau vs. Tipsarevic (MCA): Which Tipsarevic will show up here? The man who fired his way past Hewitt with a blizzard of electric shot-making, or the man who barely edged past Lacko in an unimaginative performance? Tipsarevic looked a bit drained after the heroics of his opener, and he may pay the price if he enters this match flat, for Benneteau rolled past trendy dark horse pick Dimitrov in the first round. Although streaky, the Frenchman represents a clear notch upward in quality from Lacko.
Querrey vs. Wawrinka (MCA): The lanky American with the casual power got a little too casual early in each of his first two matches, dropping the opening sets in both. Against Wawrinka, a natural grinder who thrives on long rallies, Querrey should discipline himself to eliminate such gifts. Having lost both of his previous meetings to the Swiss, including a US Open five-setter, he will need to maintain a higher first-serve percentage this time and aim to end points more efficiently.
Almagro vs. Janowicz (Court 3): In the wake of a bizarre five-set comeback against Devvarman, one wondered whether to praise Janowicz for his tenacity in roaring back after losing the first two sets, or to linger on his immaturity for letting his emotions run astray early in the match. Without that costly burst of petulance, the match likely would not have lasted as long as it did. Similarly, Almagro needed much longer than expected to dismiss American neophyte Steve Johnson in another five-setter. Between the Spaniard’s backhand and the Pole’s forehand, fans should see risky, flamboyant shot-making as each man hopes to exploit a weak section of the draw.
Jelena Jankovic. How do I even begin to describe Jelena Jankovic?
I first became acquainted with Jelena Jankovic seven years ago, when she still wore Reebok. From January to May 2006, Jankovic lost ten straight matches and considered quitting the sport to study at university. She turned her year, and arguably her career, around with a run to the semifinals of the US Open that year. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of Jankovic’s flair for the dramatics.
She found her way to the top of the rankings in 2008 with the polarizing figure of Ricardo Sanchez by her side. In fact, many would consider Jankovic a polarizing figure herself. Some found her diva antics and blunt humor amusing, while others found her brash and self-centered. She was the subject of a Serbian documentary about her life that same year, aptly titled Jelenin svet (Jelena’s World). While she was at the top of the game, that was almost how it felt; it was Jelena’s world, and we were just living in it.
However, in 2009, it all began to go wrong. Jankovic looked to “bulk up” in the offseason in an attempt to change her game to challenge for major titles. Jankovic was upset by Marion Bartoli in the fourth round in Melbourne that year; Bartoli hit 34 winners, compared to Jankovic’s 17 and won 81% of her first serve points, compared to Jankovic’s 56%. As a result, Jelena lost the No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams. She ended 2009 and 2010 at No. 8, but the ranking slide was quick from there. 2011 marked her first non-top 10 season since 2006 while 2012 was the first time she ended the year outside the world’s top 20 since 2005.
Jankovic comes into this year’s Australian Open seeded No. 22. She faced off against Johanna Larsson in the opening round, and despite a convincing 6-2, 6-2 scoreline, the match was anything but. Jankovic hit 16 winners to 23 errors in her opener, while the Swede hit a paltry six winners to go with a staggering 36 errors.
Qualifier Maria Joao Koehler, who impressed in a 7-5, 6-1 first round loss to Kim Clijsters a year ago in her Grand Slam main draw debut, came out firing en route to building a *4-1 lead in the first set. Jankovic would take a medical timeout on that change of ends, the first of many subplots throughout the match. She left the court for treatment, and returned with her entire abdomen taped.
Nothing would stop the momentum from the lefty from Portugal, who hit more winners than Jankovic in the opening set and benefitted from the Serb’s 17 unforced errors; Koehler would take the opener 6-2 in 41 minutes. Jankovic was close to tears early on in the second set, whether it was the injury, her poor play or both. Midway through, she began to crack some of her trademark backhands-down-the line with some authority but continued to trail for the majority of the set. Koehler was two points away from victory at *5-4 in the tiebreak, but Jankovic would win three points in a row to level the match at a set apiece.
The pair would trade breaks to open the third set, but this time it was Jankovic who would benefit from Koehler’s erratic play; the 20-year-old hit just two winners and a whopping 20 unforced errors in the third set to give Jankovic a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 victory.
Jankovic was always good at finding a way to win matches when not playing her best. Despite that, this isn’t the Jelena Jankovic who came to be known as one of the most unique personalities on the WTA Tour over the past half-decade; she’s become a shell of the player she once was. One of the WTA’s masters of engaging the crowd when she was at her peak, Jankovic appeared to do anything but embrace the crowd’s support in this match. She’s been going through the motions for a long time now, and her days of a contender for major tournaments seem to be behind her. Jankovic hasn’t been enjoying herself on the court for a while, and it’s sad to see.
She’ll take on Ana Ivanovic in the third round, and if this were 2008, I’d say that match was highly anticipated. But this is 2013, and both are a world away from contending for major titles as they once were.
While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully. We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.
Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea. Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test. But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.
Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA): Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots. In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena. Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly. The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.
Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA): This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic. A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career. That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final. She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.
Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena): Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day. Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others. The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.
Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense): The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little. Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska. Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.
Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena): For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4. Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope. The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.
Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA): Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career. Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden. Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.
Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA): After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents. She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.
Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3): The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic. Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years. The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.
Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8): From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology. He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight. Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.
Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8): The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker. The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.
Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11): Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process). The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match. Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.
Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13): At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce. A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced. The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week. The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.
Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19): Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans. She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years. Is she ready for her comeback? Perhaps more to the point, are we?
Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20): From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative. Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament. His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland. Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.
Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22): Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines. Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level. Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.
Excited about these matches and others on Day 1? Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.