On a busy Monday in Miami, all of the women’s fourth-round matches unfold. You can find a preview of all eight here in addition to a few of the remaining men’s third-round encounters.
Garbine Muguruza vs. Li Na: Into the fourth round for the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, the Spanish rising star continues to consolidate her position as a player to watch this year. Indian Wells finalist Caroline Wozniacki became the latest player to learn about Muguruza’s ascendancy the hard way, thoroughly dismantled on Sunday. A day later, the youngster trains her weapons on Li Na, who has produced consistently outstanding tennis in the few tournaments that she has played this year. The Australian Open runner-up has lost only to Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka in 2013, although a knee injury sidelined her for several weeks after Melbourne. When she returned this week, her ball-striking looked as clean if not as audacious as it had in January. Never at her best in Miami, Li could turn a page now.
Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova: Awaiting the winner of the previous match in the quarterfinals is the world No. 1, assuming that she can survive the test posed by the shortest woman in the top 30. Cibulkova vanished from relevance after reaching the Sydney final, where Radwanska double-bageled her, but she pushed Serena’s predecessor in the spot to the brink in the same round here a year ago. That match against Azarenka, for which she served twice, revealed how much her explosive forehand can threaten taller opponents with more effortless power. Against a server like Serena, who struck 20 aces against her at Wimbledon in 2010, Cibulkova’s short wingspan may prevent her from creating pressure in return games and exploiting the erratic baseline play that Williams showed in the last round.
Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray: The memory of what unfolded when he faced Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells may reverberate through Dimitrov’s mind if he takes a lead against Murray. Serving for the first set that time, he conceded four double faults in a painful display of nerves. Dimitrov also took Murray to a first-set tiebreak wen they met in the Brisbane final this year, only to lose the tiebreak decisively and fade thereafter. Much more impressive than he looked at Indian Wells, Murray showed minimal mercy to another rising phenom in Bernard Tomic. His two-handed backhand should break down Dimitrov’s one-hander unless the Bulgarian enjoys an excellent serving day that allows him to dictate points with his forehand.
John Isner vs. Marin Cilic: Among the stranger statistics of the ATP is Cilic’s undefeated record against Americans, which includes victories over playesr like Roddick and Querrey. That perfection might continue against a giant exhausted from his epic victory over Ivan Dodig in the sweltering Miami heat. Mired in a slump for the last several months, Isner will have gained confidence from winning the type of close match that he so often plays, but he generally does not recover well after winning them and does not have an impressive history in Miami. The slow surface will blunt the serves of both men, a greater concern for Isner than the more balanced Cilic.
Maria Sharapova vs. Klara Zakopalova: The only woman in the lower half of the women’s draw who has defeated Sharapova on a hard court, Zakopalova halted the other Russian Maria in the wake of the latter’s strong fortnight at Indian Wells. That sole victory came a decade agao at the Australian Open, however, and the Czech subsided uneventfully when they met in Doha this February. Sharapova struggled on serve when Zakopalova took her to a third set at Roland Garros last year, and she struggled on serve again on the windy afternoon of her previous match. But she should break Zakopalova’s serve frequently with her rapier-like returns, keeping this counterpuncher on her heels from the outset.
Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny: These two men have developed a reputation for suffering ignominious meltdowns, including an occasion here when Youzhny drew blood from his head by smashing his racket against it. Another of those occasions featured the Frenchman surrendering a two-set lead to his fellow headcase at the Australian Open. Well past his prime, the Russian still can uncork one-handed backhands scarcely less lovely than Gasquet’s signature shot. Moreover, Youzhny has won four of their seven career meetings, surprising considering his opponent’s superior weapons.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion has suffered a lull in form since winning consecutive titles to start 2013, dominated by Li and Petra Kvitova before Kirilenko upset her at Indian Wells. Radwanska dropped a set in the third round to Magdalena Rybarikova, a talented player but still a journeywoman, so she must raise her level against an Australian Open semifinalist. That said, Stephens ate a bagel from Olga Govortsova in her first set of the tournament, and she had lost four of her previous five matches before that victory. At Cincinnati last summer, she extended Radwanska to a third set despite lacking the firepower that normally troubles the Pole. Something similar could happen here in a match filled with long rallies.
Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey: Meeting for the fourth time since the start of 2012, these two giants play essentially the same styles in a matchup determined by execution on the day. In that regard, one must give the edge to Raonic, who defeated Querrey comfortably at San Jose last month in avenging two losses to the American last year. The slow outdoor courts of Miami favor the Canadian’s massive weapons and preference for short points much less than does the indoor arena in San Jose. In rallying past former nemesis Lukasz Kubot, Querrey continued to look vulnerable in a year when few victories have come easily. (Or, the more pessimistic might say, at all.) This match should come down to first-serve percentage and focus, critical in a match that hinges upon a tiny handful of points and in which any mistake can prove fatal.
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Recovered from a serious issue with blood clots last year, Flipkens reached the second week of the Australian Open and upset Kvitova yesterday in an oddly oscillating three-setter. Some of her better results have come on grass, which showcases her biting slice and her fine hands at net. Aligned opposite her is a Croat who clawed past Petkovic in a third-set tiebreak after upsetting Julia Goerges in the previous round. Like Flipkens, Tomljanovic has struggled with sporadic injuries, and she has played only a handful of WTA tournaments in the last several months. Transitioning overnight from the underdog to the favorite, the Belgian should fancy her chances to reach the most significant quarterfinal of her career.
Roberta Vinci vs. Alize Cornet: In a section that imploded, either of these women plausibly could reach a semifinal and collect the valuable ranking points that come with it. The main question regarding this match concerns whether Cornet can recover in time from a three-set victory that forced her to leave the court in a wheelchair. On the other hand, Vinci needed plenty of energy to grind through a three-setter of her own against Suarez Navarro, testing the veteran’s stamina. Her backhand slices could prove vital in testing the patience of an ever-edgy Cornet.
Sara Errani vs. Ana Ivanovic: After the Serb had won their two previous meetings, the Italian turned the tables at Roland Garros last year in a match that Ivanovic controlled initially before letting it slip away. The steadiness of Errani has allowed her to outlast streaky shot-makers like the former Roland Garros champion over the last year, but the latter displayed her best form in several months during her two victories here. For her part, Errani has lost just five games in two matches, the fewest of any woman left in the draw. If Ivanovic bursts to a fast start and sustains it, as she did against Kuznetsova, she could overwhelm this opponent before she settles. If Errani can find her footing and extend the rallies, meanwhile, she could complicate the plot for a woman who prefers her matches straightforward.
Sorana Cirstea vs. Jelena Jankovic: Until Jankovic won their most recent encounter in Dallas last summer, Cirstea had swept all of her meetings against an opponent consistently ranked higher than her, although each stretched into a final set and none came on an outdoor hard court. The Romanian brunette managed to upset Kerber a round after barely eking out a victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, a pair of results that illustrates how wide her range of form extends. Almost as impressive as the Kerber upset was Jankovic’s victory over Nadia Petrova, her seventh win in her last eight matches with the only loss coming in an airtight clash with Kuznetsova. Both women thus should enter this match with confidence, and they eye a similar opportunity to Vinci and Cornet, the winner of whom would meet the winner of this match in the quarterfinals.
MIAMI, FL (March 24, 2013) — Saturday at the Sony Open witnessed a few surprises as young players took center stage. Teenager Garbine Muguruza defeated world No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, while 19-year-old Ajla Tomljanovic defeated former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic after being dealt a first-set bagel. Venus Williams was also forced to retire prior to her match against Sloane Stephens for pain in her lower back, but hopes to make her next stop in Charleston.
On the men’s side, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga escaped a tough tiebreaker in the first set against Viktor Troicki, to win 7-6(6), 6-3, while Sam Querrey commanded Lukasz Kubot in three, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
In women’s doubles, the pairing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova defeated Muguruza and Francesca Schiavone it two tight sets, 7-6(5), 7-5.
Below are Tennis Grandstand’s “Best Shots of the Day” by our photographer Christopher Levy that includes the matches above, an exclusive from Venus Williams’ press conference, and a few select shots of player practices with Andy Murray and Andrea Petkovic.
While the men’s draw has suffered from marquee withdrawals by Federer and Nadal, the women’s draw in Miami witnesses the return of world #1 Serena Williams and Australian Open finalist Li Na to North American hard courts. They have landed in the same quarter of the Sony Open draw, with which we start our women’s preview.
First quarter: Since she won Brisbane to start 2013, Serena’s season has not gone as she would have hoped. Injury and illness have contributed to losses at the Australian Open and Doha, so she will hope to regroup from those setbacks at her home tournament, which she has dominated when healthy. More successful here than almost anywhere else, Serena should deploy her serve to devastating effect against the meager return games of her first few opponents. Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta would have wished for a better draw than facing the world #1 in the second round, while potential fourth-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova should find her height and wingspan too limited to cope with this level of first-strike power. Somewhat more intriguing is the prospect of Lucie Safarova, a lefty more capable of matching Serena hold for hold when at her best, but her results have remained too erratic to depend on her reaching the fourth round.
On the opposite side of the quarter, an intriguing draw would pit Indian Wells runner-up Wozniacki against Australian Open runner-up Li in the fourth round, a rematch of some scintillating three-setters that the two have played on outdoor hard courts. Neither faces too intimidating a challenge before that stage, although the former might take note of surging Spanish phenom Garbine Muguruza. That rising star reached the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier and easily could upset the reeling Pavlyuchenkova in the second round to reach Wozniacki in the third. But the Dane should have taken more confidence from her finals appearance in the desert than from her resounding defeat to Sharapova there. She should weather the test posed by Muguruza and probably also the challenge presented by Li, who has not played since her outstanding January campaign. The Chinese star may need some matches to regain her rhythm after so long an absence and so severe an injury. If Wozniacki does meet Serena in the quarterfinals, the top seed likely would relish the opportunity to avenge a miserable loss to the same opponent at the same stage last year.
Second quarter: Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska could not have drawn a much more challenging route to a repeat performance in Miami, nor did her performance over the last two weeks inspire much confidence in her. More impressive on a similar surface at Indian Wells, Mona Barthel will train her huge serve and return weapons against the Pole in the third round. Perhaps more compelling for local fans is the third-round meeting between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, who personify the past and future of American women’s tennis. The latter woman has not built upon her Australian Open semifinal in recent weeks, however, struggling with an abdominal injury and exiting Indian Wells in her first match. Venus, who has not played since Sharapova demolished her in Melbourne, has shared her sister’s history of success at their home tournament but fell to Radwanska here a year ago.
If she can survive the imposing serves in her immediate vicinity, Radwanska can expect little reprieve in the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked woman who could meet her there, Petra Kvitova, dismantled her with ease last month in Dubai and reached her first Indian Wells quarterfinal last week. On the other hand, Kvitova never has distinguished herself in Miami and will have some obstacles of her own to surmount before she can reach Radwanska. Among them is Marion Bartoli, knocking on the door of the top ten again and more successful here than Kvitova. The double-fister suffered a surprising loss to Errani in the desert, but her competitive tenacity could allow her to exploit the Czech’s inevitable episodes of erratic play. One of the most intriguing unseeded players in the draw, Andrea Petkovic aims to reawaken the memories of her 2011 semifinal run in Miami. She faces a stern series of opening tests against Bojana Jovanovski, Bartoli, and Julia Goerges before she even reaches Kvitova. From this unpredictable section of the draw, an unexpected semifinalist could emerge.
Semifinalist: Er, Kvitova?
Third quarter: One match short of the Indian Wells-Miami double in 2006, Maria Sharapova eyes a comfortable route to position herself at least within range of that accomplishment. She has not lost a set to anyone but Serena in her last two tournaments, cruising to the desert title without any physically or emotionally arduous matches that would have drained her energy. Many women would suffer a hangover after capturing a title of that magnitude, but the career Grand Slam champion has grown sufficiently accustomed to achievements on that level to avoid such a lapse. Even if she did, early rounds against Vesnina or an assortment of qualifiers and wildcards should not threaten her. A rematch of the Indian Wells semifinal might loom in the fourth round, but Kirilenko may struggle to sustain her Indian Wells form. The only woman to win a set from Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, Klara Zakopalova could inconvenience her on one of her more inconsistent days.
For the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, Sara Errani would await Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Despite the Italian’s ability to reach that stage at Indian Wells, she may find her path more complicated this time. The massive serve of Sabine Lisicki, always fragile and always dangerous, could produce a stark contrast of styles if she meets Errani in the third round. But the third-round match below offers more intrigue, for it should pit Ivanovic against either Makarova or former Miami champion Kuznetsova. Gifted shot-makers all, those three women will look to stay patient on the slow hard court and bounce back from Indian Wells disappointments. They must stay even more patient against Errani than each other, but each might have a stronger chance than the Italian to trouble Sharapova because of their greater capacity to finish points. It is hard to imagine the world #2 stumbling early if she sustains her Indian Wells form, though.
Fourth quarter: Will she or won’t she? The question hovers over the status of Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Miami champion who withdrew from Indian Wells with an ankle injury. Having glanced at her draw and seen the heavy serve of Madison Keys in her opener, Vika may feel some trepidation about testing that joint in a match where she will need her movement to shine. Afterwards, she could meet a group of slow-court specialists like Cornet, Vinci, or Suarez Navarro. Climbing the rankings regularly in recent weeks, the Spaniard showcases the finest one-handed backhand among the seeded women here. Together with Keys on the list of home hopes, Christina McHale continues to regroup slowly from her mono last year. She led eventual Indian Wells semifinalist Kirilenko by a set and a break, so she should feel encouraged by her progress. Young British hope Laura Robson rounds out this section’s crop of rising stars.
Veterans proliferate in the upper half of this section, from Jankovic and Petrova to Zheng and Schiavone. Indian Wells semifinalist Kerber will need to raise her spirits following a dispiriting loss to Wozniacki in which she seemed firmly in control and battled to the bitter end. If she can, none of the opponents in this section should match her blend of alert anticipation and lefty shot-making, although Sorana Cirstea flickered into form at Indian Wells by winning a set from Radwanska. A finalist in Miami during her prime, Jankovic did not bring her momentum from winning the Bogota clay tournament to North America and struggles to string together strong results. Of greater note is the eleventh-seeded Petrova, remarkable still near the elite in singles and doubles despite her age. This section remains difficult to predict as long as Azarenka’s status is uncertain, but Kerber looks poised to take advantage of a lapse by the Australian Open champion.
Check back tomorrow for a similar look at the men’s draw in Miami.
By Maud Watson
Thrice as Nice
They call it the “Happy Slam,” and no one seems happier to compete in Oz than Novak Djokovic. The Serb became the first man in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open singles titles, with his latest coming over Andy Murray. It was a classic match from Djokovic. He bounced back from the disappointment of losing a tight first set, scraped by in the second, and then found the confidence to play top-flight tennis to win the next two with relative ease and secure his sixth major singles title. As he did last year, Djokovic has announced his goal is to capture that elusive singles crown at Roland Garros, and just as was the case in 2012, his win in Melbourne has given him the perfect start to mount such a campaign. But unlike last season, he doesn’t have the 41-match win streak to defend, nor does he have the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated streak against Nadal. He should be able to play with less pressure, which arguably makes 2013 his best chance yet to win Roland Garros. It may be months away, but many, perhaps none more so than Djokovic, are already gearing up for springtime in Paris!
That’s one of the ways to describe the feel of the Australian Open women’s final and ending result, as Victoria Azarenka defeated Li Na to successfully defend her 2012 crown. The crowd was always going to be in Li’s corner, but at after the controversy that followed Azarenka’s win in the semis, they were firmly entrenched in the Li camp. They let Azarenka know it, too. She entered the stadium to a chorus of boos, and the crowd was quick to jump on her if she so much as put a toe out of line. Ironically and fittingly, Azarenka also had to endure three delays – one for fireworks and two for medical timeouts for Li. But Azarenka overcame it all, and as she won the final point, she broke down in tears. The dream was realized, the nightmare over. She’ll likely never be a fan favorite, but the way she was made to earn that final victory helped with damage control. Many were impressed that she didn’t crumble under the media frenzy or lose her way after the extended breaks, and there was no denying that she had handled the bigger moments better than Li. Her genuine tears were also a nice touch. For her part, Azarenka stated she would always remember the court and hinted that she, too, had learned an important lesson that fortnight. Hopefully she does take away more than just a trophy from Melbourne and we can look forward to better things from the WTA No. 1.
On the Cusp
They both fell short at the final hurdle, but Murray’s and Li’s deep runs in Australia bode well for their chances in 2013. Playing in his first slam since becoming a major champion, Murray handled the added pressure and expectations admirably. In the final, it was evident that Djokovic still has the edge in the mental department, but the days of Murray turning into a shrinking violet in the biggest matches are over. He’s firmly a member of the Big 4, and with the current landscape of the ATP, is also looking more and more likely to be the Serb’s chief rival for the sport’s grandest prizes. A trip to the Aussie Open championship match represented an even bigger breakthrough for Li, as it’s the first time she’s reached a slam final since winning at Roland Garros in 2011. She’s still struggling to play clutch tennis when it matters most, but with her fitness, game, and overall consistency improving since bringing Rodriguez onboard, it’s only a matter of time before she catches up in the mental toughness department, too. Another major title looks well within the realm of possibility for the endearing woman from China.
Double the Pleasure
It got overshadowed by the singles, but the doubles competition in Oz provided plenty of feel-good and historical moments. The wildcard pairing of Gajdosova and Ebden pulled off a string of upsets to give the home crowd something to cheer about by taking the mixed doubles crown, and the crafty Italian duo of Vinci and Errani blazed a path to the final – one that included a win over the Williams Sisters – to take their third major championship as a team. But the biggest story belonged to the Bryan Brothers. They defeated the unseeded pairing of Haase and Sijsling for their 13th major to break the tie they shared with Newcombe and Roche and become the most successful men’s doubles team in Grand Slam history. With the twin Americans announcing that they hope to play until Rio in 2016, it would be a stunner if we didn’t see them continue to add to their legacy.
Matters of the Heart
Tennis fans, and particularly American tennis fans, have anxiously been awaiting the return of Mardy Fish to the ATP circuit. Unfortunately Fish, who was supposed to compete in San Jose, has been forced to withdraw with the same heart issues that have kept him sidelined since he pulled out of his Round of 16 clash with Roger Federer at last year’s US Open. At age 30, Fish doesn’t have a lot of time left, but he also needs to exercise plenty of caution. Hearts issues are obviously more serious than blisters or joint pain. Hopefully his withdrawal turns out to be nothing more than a short, temporary setback, but if is something more, Fish may be forced to make his absence from the ATP World Tour into a permanent one.
After the close of a fortnight at once surprising and unsurprising, we review the notable figures in the WTA field at the Australian Open. Grading influenced by expectations, quality of competition, and other factors in addition to raw results.
Azarenka: The first woman in over three decades to win her second major by defending her first, she consolidated her position as world #1 in the rankings and public enemy #1 in the eyes of many. What the media and general public may refuse to acknowledge is that Azarenka showed fortitude in regrouping from the controversy swirling around her semifinal—and from a miserable start to the final—to halt an extremely talented opponent on a torrid streak with virtually everyone in the arena cheering lustily against her. Her competitive desire rivals anyone on the Tour, and that attribute forms a key component of her success at elite tournaments notwithstanding her tendency to carry it too far at times. Like her or not, Azarenka is here to stay with a game perfectly suited to the moderately paced hard court’s that have become the dominant surface and a determination to win at any price. She probably will spend most of her career as a polarizing figure, but she appears to thrive on the hostility around her and relish the challenge of overcoming it. When the dust settled, moreover, her tears at the end suggested that she may have matured during the emotionally fraught fortnight after all. A
Li: Endearing herself to audiences around the world, Li smiled even when she twisted her ankle for the second time in the final and slammed the back of her head into the court. She smiled even as an Australian Open final slipped away from her for the second time after she had come within two games of her second major title. The best player here for most of the tournament, Li trumpeted her return to relevance by defeating consecutive top-four opponents Radwanska and Sharapova in straight sets. Not until after her first ankle injury, in fact, did she even lose a set here. When all of the components of her game click together, any opponent other than Serena will struggle to overcome someone with no apparent weakness. Much of the credit probably goes to coach Carlos Rodriguez for providing the discipline that she had lacked, but her ability to battle through injury after injury illustrated her inner steel. And, unlike the equally fierce competitor across the net in the final, she mingled that steel with the grace and warmth that emerged from that smile. A+
Sharapova: Continuing a trend that has defined many of her performances at the Australian Open, she mowed down several overmatched opponents to march deep into the draw, only to get mowed down herself late in the second week. We learned nothing new about Sharapova this tournament, instead receiving reminders that she can demolish or be demolished on any given day without warning. That said, her lack of match preparation did not appear to cost her, and her loss to Li hinged much more upon the Chinese star’s excellence than her own fallibility. Some threw excessive-celebration flags on Sharapova for her victory over an aging Venus, which unjustly obscured that transcendent performance in a nearly flawless stretch that set multiple Australian Open records for dominance. Her post-tournament ranking of #3 feels exactly right. B+
Serena: As with Sharapova, we learned nothing new about Serena. She continues to carve up the WTA like a cantaloupe when she is healthy and hungry, but she cannot overcome injuries as impressively as she once could. One cannot doubt that she would have finished off Stephens if not for her second injury of the tournament, and it is difficult to imagine the struggling serve of Azarenka or even the streaking Li stopping her after then. Depending on how her ankle recovers, though, Serena should regain the #1 ranking soon. Incomplete
Stephens: Putting aside the fact that she benefited from Serena’s injury, this tournament marked a decisive breakthrough for Stephens. Many players have lost to an injured Serena before, and it appeared that she would when she choked away a second-set lead and later trailed by a break in the third. Despite her competitive rawness, she managed to regroup in both instances and settle herself to record a career-defining win. Also satisfying was her convincing victory over fellow phenom Robson, and she should take Azarenka’s dubious medical timeouts as a compliment, illustrating how worried her resilience in the second set had made the world #1. A
Radwanska: Now just 1-6 in major quarterfinals (0-4 here), with her only victory a three-setter over Kirilenko, she did little to refute her reputation as a player who struggles to translate her success to the places that matter most. Radwanska entered the tournament having won consecutive titles in Auckland and Sydney, so she had not even dropped a set this year until she ran into the Li Na buzzsaw. She had chances to win that first set and turn around the momentum in the second, but once again she could find no answer to an opponent capable of outhitting her consistently without imploding at key moments. It’s still difficult to see Radwanska winning a major unless the draw falls just right. B
Makarova: As a clever wit noted on Twitter, she excels in places that end in –bourne. Winning Eastbourne as a qualifier once, Makarova reached her second straight quarterfinal in Melbourne by upsetting world #5 Kerber. Her defense and lefty angles created a scintillating combination to watch, perhaps honed by her doubles expertise. Once she fell behind early against Sharapova, she let too much negativity seep into her body language, but that match seemed unwinnable anyway. B+
Kuznetsova: One of three Russian women to reach the quarterfinals, this two-time major champion has revived her career in impressive fashion. Kuznetsova finally strung together a series of confidence-boosting victories at a prestigious tournament, displaying poise late in a tight third-setter against Wozniacki just when she might have crumbled in years past. Her sparkling athleticism set her apart from many of the more programmatic women at the top of the WTA. B+
Kerber: Similar to her performances at the preparatory tournaments, her Melbourne result was unremarkable in either a positive or negative sense. She fell before the quarterfinals for the third straight hard-court major since reaching the 2011 US Open semifinals, still looking tired from her busy season in 2012. That post-tournament ranking of #6 seems inflated—until you look at the women directly behind her. B-
WTA #7-9: This trio won two total matches at the Australian Open, finding a variety of ways to collapse. Last year’s quarterfinalist Errani could not hold serve against fellow clay specialist Suarez Navarro in an ominous sign for a year in which she must defend large quantities of points. Last year’s semifinalist Kvitova could not finish off Laura Robson amid a horrific cascade of double faults and groundstrokes dispatched to places unknown. Her confidence even more tattered than her game, the former Wimbledon champion nears a pivotal crossroads. At least one expected home hope Stosur to shatter Aussie dreams as painfully as possible, which she accomplished by twice failing to serve out a match against Zheng before dumping a second serve into the middle of the net down match point. F
Wozniacki: Many, including me, thought that she would fall to Lisicki in the first round. Let off the hook when the German self-destructed yet again, Wozniacki capitalized on her second life to win two more matches. Then the poise that she displayed at her best late in close matches deserted her as she fell two points short of closing out Kuznetsova. (As colleague David Kane has noted, that match posed a striking counterpoint to her earlier matches against the Russian.) Out of the top 10 after the tournament, Wozniacki continues to stagnate without much sign of recovery. C+
Pavlyuchenkova: Like fellow Brisbane runner-up Dimitrov, she crashed out of the tournament in the first round. What happens in Brisbane stays in Brisbane, or does it? Pavlyuchenkova has much to prove after a disastrous 2012 but plenty of talent with which to prove it. C
WTA young guns: From Stephens and Keys to Robson and Watson to Gavrilova and Putintseva, rising stars from around the world asserted themselves in Melbourne. The future looks bright with a variety of personalities and playing styles maturing in our midst. A
Kvitova vs. Robson: Hideous for the first two sets, it grew into the greatest WTA drama of the tournament not stoked by Azarenka. The question of whether the budding teenager could oust the major champion hovered through game after game that mixed the sublime with the absurd. It was hard to applaud, and equally hard to look away even as it careened deep into the Melbourne night. B
Errani/Vinci vs. Williams/Williams: Two of the greatest legends in the history of the sport faced the top doubles team, en route to their third title in the last four majors. After three sets and over two and a half hours, the Italians survived two American attempts to serve for the match and struck a blow for the value of doubles as more than a format for singles stars to hone their skills. This match also marked a rare occasion when David felled Goliath in a WTA dominated by the latter. A-
Women’s final: Seemingly everything imaginable happened in this profoundly gripping, profoundly weird climax to the tournament: fireworks, a concussion test, 16 service breaks, and a starker good vs. evil narrative than most Hollywood movies. As the service breaks suggested, the quality of tennis fluctuated dramatically from one point to the next with both women struggling to find their best form at the same time. Meanwhile, the dramatic tension soared to Shakespearean levels as the WTA produced its third straight three-set major final. A
Enjoy this tournament review? Come back tomorrow for the ATP edition.
Follow for updates from the women’s final as the match unfolds. Victoria Azarenka seeks to defend her title and her #1 ranking, but Li Na looks for a third straight victory over a top-four opponent.
Azarenka 1*-0: Having claimed that she would silence her nerves for her second final here, Li suggests otherwise with a double fault to open the final. Not nervous herself, Azarenka pounds a series of deep returns that allow her to move inside the baseline early in the rallies. A pair of routine errors from 30-30 hand the first of what should be many breaks to the defending champion.
Li 2-1*: When she starts her first service game, Azarenka now looks edgy and quickly returns the break with some tepid errors. Steadying herself in the next game, Li opens it by winning a long rally with a clean forehand winner, her first of the match. As expected, she dictates most of the rallies for better or for worse and ends most of them with winners or unforced errors. With some more solid serving, she earns a valuable hold to reverse the early deficit.
Li 3-2*: Smartly freezing and wrong-footing Azarenka by redirecting her groundstrokes, Li breaks easily under the weight of her superior power as the top seed looks a trifle sluggish. Down 30-15 on her next return game, Vika drills a backhand down the line that appears to alleviate some of her simmering frustration. Two game points spurned, one on a gruesome miss, Li dumps a backhand in the net to keep the set on serve (or on break, if you prefer).
Li 5-2*: With a massive backhand that cleans the sideline splendidly, Li earns the third straight break after surrendering just one point to Azarenka. Her return continues to maul the Belarussian’s serve, both first and second. Azarenka has won just four points in three service games as she still looks for her first hold. By contrast, Li holds serve at love with a resounding statement that moves her within a game of the first set.
Li 5-4*: The top seed urgently needed to hold, and she does by finding more first serves before following them with deep penetrating groundstrokes. Serving for the first set, Li donates a loose sequence of points that leave her pinned at triple break point. Her groundstrokes narrowly missing their targets, she saves just a single break point before another sloppy error moves the set back on serve, although Azarenka still must hold to draw level.
Li 6-4: From 30-30, a crushing cross-court return winner off the forehand positions Li at set point, but Azarenka saves it when her opponent’s return sails long. The two women then trade sizzling forehand winners as the quality of the match improves, Vika’s coming off a sharply angled pass and the Chinese star’s after a point that she set up with groundstrokes off both sidelines. A second set point vanishes with a fine drop volley from Azarenka, not usually a specialty of hers. But a third set point arrives when Li catches the Belarussian leaning the wrong direction and punishes her with an inside-out backhand winner, only to squander it with a return error. The fourth set point falls into her ledger without the need to strike a ball, though, when Azarenka double-faults well long.
Li 6-4 0-3*: Break #8 arrives immediately when Li’s backhand drifts into the alley in a surprising sign of weakness from a normally steady shot. Clearly not free of her nerves yet, she contributes more errors in another Azarenka game that reaches deuce and ultimately break point. Able to save the break point with a service winner, Vika steadies herself to play some of her most impressive tennis so far as she paints both sidelines with both groundstrokes in a Djokovic-like sequence that finally silences the tenacious Li. The unforced errors flow ever more freely from the Chinese star’s racket, recalling her wayward start to the second set in the 2011 final after she had won the first. Vika claims an extra break to take control of this set, for now.
Li 6-4 2-3*: In every service game but one, Azarenka has dropped her serve or faced break point. That trend continues when a crisp inside-out forehand from Li follows a wayward forehand from Vika to regain part of the deficit. Ranging along the baseline midway through her next service game, she tumbles onto the court as she appears to sprain her ankle. Not as gruesomely twisted as some before her, it requires a medical timeout that halts the momentum of the match even further. When she returns, however, Li unleashes aggressive backhands to hold off the slightly out-of-tune Azarenka.
Li 6-4 3-4*: Battling to regain the other break, Li moves across the baseline more effortfully but almost as effectively. She draws an error from Azarenka via a well-timed lob and soon finds herself down triple break point when the defending champion misses a straightforward forehand. A netted ball on the third appears to drain some of the spirit from her as a merciless Vika digs out of trouble to hold. Faced with a virtual must-hold, she double-faults consecutively at 15-15 as her movement starts to falter. Azarenka nets a routine backhand on the second to keep the set tight, and some clean serving from Li allows her to escape the game.
Li 6-4 4-5*: Bombing a pinpoint backhand return on the first point of the eighth game, Li moves Azarenka off the court by creating a sharp forehand angle. By netting a drop shot, the defending champion sets up double break point. When Azarenka sprays a forehand on the second, the set returns to even terms after the top set had led by a double break. Struggling to capitalize on the momentum shift, Li nets some routine groundstrokes and sends a backhand long on break point.
Sets even 6-4 4-6: Appearing to suffer increasing pain in her ankle, the Chinese veteran concedes the next game quickly with a series of routine errors. Azarenka holds without facing a break point for just the second time and holds for just the third time overall in two sets. Li now must regroup herself mentally and physically for a final set as her ankle trouble continues to loom.
Li 6-4 4-6 2-1*: At 15-30, Li botches a mid-court forehand in horrific fashion to set up double break point. After she holds a game point following a netted groundstroke from Li, Azarenka grows too passive and later double-faults for the 14th break of the match. Taking advantage of a lull in her opponent’s consistency, the Chinese star edges ahead just before the Australia Day fireworks start in Melbourne.
Azarenka 4-6 6-4 3*-2: An excruciating match for Li’s body grows ever more painful as she slips on the baseline during the first point after the fireworks and not only twists her ankle again but bangs her head into the asphalt. After a timeout to assess a potential concussion, she bounces back with a sparkling inside-out backhand return at 30-30 to earn a break point. Azarenka then shows off her own two-hander to save the break point with a signature cross-court angle. An early forehand error in the next game and a double fault on the third point dig a hole for Li. With double break point ahead, however, Azarenka floats a shot over the baseline. Or rather not, for Hawkeye reverses the call and forces a replay that the world #1 wins with another magnificent cross-court backhand.
Azarenka 4-6 6-4 4*-3: Holding comfortably for a rare time, Azarenka moves within two games of defending her title. For her part, Li regroups sturdily from losing the first point of a crucial service games to take command behind her first serve. She holds with a booming cross-court forehand to keep the suspense very much in this match.
FINAL: Azarenka wins 4-6 6-4 6-3: An inside-in forehand winner followed by penetrating backhands puts Azarenka in an early 0-30 hole as she grows too passive. Creating an interesting change of pace at 30-30, Li claims a break point with a moonball that draws a forehand error. Azarenka saves it with a first serve out wide and moves within five points of the title with an inside-out forehand winner. Another wide serve leaves Li serving to stay in the match. A fine backhand winner down the line keeps her alive at 15-15, but a forehand winner from Azarenka moves her within two points of the title. The game soon reaches deuce following a deep forehand and a netted backhand from Li, deciding her own fate to the end. A wild backhand offers Azarenka her first championship point, which she earns with a backhand sailed over the baseline from Li.
Azarenka showed the resolve of a champion in defending her first major title, but Li also deserves credit for battling so fiercely through injury after injury to extend the world #1 deep into a final set. Credit to both of them.
On the penultimate day of the tournament, the 2013 Australian Open will crown its women’s singles and men’s doubles champions. Read about what to expect from those matches.
Azarenka vs. Li: Meeting in a final on Australian soil for the fourth time, these two women of similar styles have battled to a very even record. Both can hammer magnificent backhands for winners to anywhere on the court, while the forehands of each can falter under pressure despite providing plenty of firepower at times. Neither wins many free points on serve, although each has improved in that department lately, and both relish pouncing on an opponent’s second serve. For these reasons, their previous meetings usually hinge on execution rather than tactics, as well as on the ability of Azarenka and Li to shoulder pressure deep in the tight sets and matches that they have played. After the Roland Garros champion dominated the early stages of their rivalry, winning four of the first five, the defending champion here has reeled off four straight victories. But two of those have reached final sets, including the Sydney title tilt last year.
The more impressive of the two in fortnight form, Li has echoed her 2011 surge in Paris by defeating two of the top four women simply to reach the final. Convincing victories over Radwanska and Sharapova, the latter of whom had troubled her lately, left her record immaculate without a single set lost. In fact, Li has won 14 of her 15 matches this year in yet another display of the brisk start with which she often opens a season. Also accustomed to starting seasons on hot streaks before her body breaks down, Azarenka has mounted a creditable albeit not overpowering effort in her title defense. She has not faced anyone ranked higher than 29th seed Sloane Stephens en route to the final, but she defeated the dangerous Kuznetsova with ease in the quarterfinals and has yielded only one set. What most may remember from her pre-final effort here, unfortunately, happened in the closing sequence of her semifinal victory. A dubious medical timeout just before Stephens served (unsuccessfully) to stay in the match incited disdain from throughout the tournament and Twitterverse, which may ripple through the response to her on Saturday.
In an ironic twist, any hostility towards Azarenka might well inspire her to produce her most motivated, relentless effort of the tournament. The world #1, who will remain there with a title, usually thrives on the negativity of others and can excel when barricading herself inside a fortress of “me against the world” attitude. For her part, Li Na will hope to show greater poise than she did in this final two years ago, letting a mid-match lead slip away to Clijsters. The coronation that followed at Roland Garros just a few months later and the steadying presence of coach Carlos Rodriguez should help the Chinese superstar channel her energies more effectively this time. Thus, one can expect a high-quality match with plenty of passion on both sides, a fitting conclusion to the many intriguing WTA narrative threads that unwound at the year’s first major.
Bryan/Bryan vs. Haase/Sijsling: Finalists here for a fifth straight year, the Bryans hope to emulate women’s doubles champions Errani and Vinci in atoning for their disappointing runner-up finish to an unheralded team in 2012. Equally unheralded is the duo of Dutchmen across the net, who have not lost a set since tottering on the brink of defeat in their first match. Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling needed a third-set tiebreak to elude that initial obstacle, but they have compiled an ominously impressive record in tiebreaks here, which bodes well for their chances in a match likely to feature few break points. Their relative lack of experience would seem a clear disadvantage against the Bryans, superior in chemistry to virtually every imaginable team.
All the same, the surprising Australian duo of Barty and Dellacqua posed a severe threat to women’s top seeds Errani and Vinci in the corresponding final, so the Bryans cannot take this team too lightly in their quest for a record-extending 13th major title. They have earned their most consistent success in Melbourne, where they have reached nine total finals, but the twins looked slightly more vulnerable this year in losing sets to the teams of Chardy/Kubot and Bolelli/Fognini. Neither of those duos can claim anything remotely comparable to the storied accomplishments of the Americans yet still challenged them. As with those matches, this final will test the conventional belief that two capable singles player can overcome the most elite doubles squads. Both inside the top 70, Haase and Sijsling have gained their modest success almost entirely in singles, whereas the specialists across the net know the geometry of doubles as well as any team ever has. That comfort level should prove the difference in a triumph that extends the stranglehold of the Bryans on history.
By Maud Watson
Just a Match
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka has once again reached the Aussie Open final, but unfortunately for her, that run is tainted by controversy thanks to a very questionable medical timeout taken by the Belarusian in her semifinal clash with Sloane Stephens. Odds were Azarenka was still going to win that match whether she did it in two or three. She’d outplayed the teenager throughout the bulk of the two sets, and Stephens has shown a tendency to play more poorly from ahead than behind against her higher-ranked opponents. But with no way to confirm the legitimacy of Azarenka’s claims, however, the decision to take the medical time out will always be labeled (and likely was) a dubious ploy. Azarenka at least had the brains to acknowledge the timing was bad, but she did herself no favors with fluctuating explanations for the time out, which partially explains why the media was so harsh with her. Part of the harsh treatment may have also stemmed from Stephens becoming the new media darling. And likely a chunk of the treatment was due strictly to the fact that it was Azarenka. After all, it’s not as though she’s the only high profile player from either tour to employ such tactics, and she’s certainly not the only one who has an established history of calling questionable medical time outs that appear to alter a match. But she’s not as popular as some of the other offenders, and so she paid a heavier price for it. It’s likely she really doesn’t care though, which is good, because when Azarenka walked off the victor Thursday night, she didn’t win any fans, just a tennis match.
The Forgotten One
What a difference a coach makes. Li Na has joked about how hard new coach Carlos Rodriguez has pushed her, but her results indicate that it’s been worth it. She’s been with the Argentine less than a year, and already she’s picked up multiple titles and is guaranteed of returning to the Top 5 in the rankings come Monday. Her trip to the Oz final is also a reminder to everyone that she’s still a major title contender. Even when it was down to the final four, many pundits only spoke of Azarenka or Sharapova winning the title, with a few over-excited analysts arguing Stephens was destined to go all the way. There was little mention made of the 2011 Roland Garros champion being the one to walk away with the trophy. But after an emphatic thrashing of Sharapova that saw the Chinese woman drop only four games, she’s forced everyone to take notice. She’s playing the better tennis than Azarenka as well, so perhaps Grand Slam title No. 2 is just on the horizon.
Leader of the Pack
Women’s tennis is definitely seeing a young crop of players poised to make a move up the rankings, and the undisputed leader of the next generation is Sloane Stephens. She didn’t necessarily have the most difficult draw at the Aussie Open, but it’s significant that she took out a number of young guns who will be her rivals over the course of the next decade. Her win over Serena was also huge, not just because it got her to the semis, but the manner in how she did it. Though Serena struggled with back spasms in the middle of the match, Stephens didn’t allow it to overly rattle her. Instead, she raised her level. Everyone kept waiting for her to crumble and Serena to step it up, but it was Stephens who proved the more composed and steady of the two. It was a watershed moment for the American, but she can’t rest on those laurels. The real test will be if she can now meet the increased expectations that come with her success Down Under, and with her game, variety, and personality, she looks equipped to do so.
Serena Williams’ impressive run at the majors came to a dramatic halt when she was felled by compatriot Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals. To say this loss was as monumental as her defeat to Razzano at the French would be a disservice to Williams. It was a quarterfinal, and unlike in Paris, she was carrying an ankle injury and was hampered by back spasms for a stretch of games in the middle of the match. But to chalk up the loss solely to those injuries would also be to shortchange Stephens, because along with the pain that Serena expressed on her face, we also saw some of that other “P” word – panic. Maybe it was the foot speed or power from her younger opponent. Maybe it was the knowledge that with a trip to the semis she could knock Azarenka out of contention for the No. 1 ranking. Maybe it was just the pressure of the old guard trying to keep out the new wave, or maybe it was a combo of things. Whatever it was, the veteran American began to press – something which more than one commentator suggested likely contributed to the flare of back spasms – and those winners that Serena seemed to crack at will in earlier rounds were suddenly flying long or catching the tape. Privately, Serena is apt to attribute the loss all up to injuries, but the rest of the field should take note. Serena also looked mentally vulnerable.
At the time of writing, we know who one of the men’s finalists will be, and that’s Novak Djokovic. The Serb was the odds makers’ favorite to make the final, so his presence there isn’t shocking. But the manner in how he got there was. There was nothing to indicate that his Round of 16 encounter with Stan Wawrinka would be anything special. He’d gotten the better of the Swiss No. 2 since 2006, so when he found himself down a set and 5-2, you could forgive him and anyone else for being shocked. But as he’s so often done, he dug deep, and when it came to those few crucial points that separate the men from the boys, it was Djokovic who came out on top. He refused to crack and managed to eek out a win 12-10 in the fifth. Questions about the impact of that five-hour epic on his chances for the title immediately followed, but Djokovic proved his fitness by winning six of his next seven sets, routinely defeating Berdych and then drubbing Ferrer en route to the final. He’s going to have to step up his game irrespective of it’s Federer or Murray he faces on Sunday, but battle tested and sufficiently recovered and rested, the odds still favor him.
James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — Conflicting with popular opinion The Great Wall of China is alive, travels extensively and has a broad sense of humour.
Maria Sharapova met the wall Thursday, and attempted to use all her artillery to beat it. In fact, Li Na defence was better than just a wall. The Russian champion, who is known to hit the ball harder than anyone, only served to hit something that would be absorbed then sent back with interest.
Sharapova, perhaps relishing her fortune and thinking towards a final that wouldn’t include Serena Williams, started horribly. The first points on Sharapova’s serve went to Na as back to back double faults. In contrast Li Na started reliably, not giving any points away. The next few games were close and if you weren’t paying attention you wouldn’t have realised that Na had raced out to a 4-1 lead.
This was the wrong script. Sharapova, who had barely lost a game all tournaments, was now losing games. In contrast Li Na was beating a player she had lost her last three meetings with.
The Russian showed a brief reprisal by securing the next game on a wild Na forehand, and the Russian attack seemed imminent.
The cavalry never came, with Sharapova’s inability to play smart tennis that included variations in pace and angle. Na rounded out the set on an easy service game.
The second set started with more of a tussle. Sharapova served well and the score line was a much more even 2-2, with Chris Evert predicting a victory for the Russian, via twitter.
Still, Na’s game plan was solid. A strategy that may have been inspired by her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, and Justine Henin’s former.
Just like the first set Li Na was winning the tough points, the longer rallies and all the important deuce and advantage points. All the games were furthering her lead.
There was to be no Sharapova comeback predicted by Evert. All in all this was a tough and tense encounter that did not reflect a 6-2 6-2 score-line. It was however Li Na’s day, literally, in the sun.
The stats rarely lie. Sharapova had 17 winners and 32 unforced errors whilst Na had a much more even 21 winners and 18 unforced errors. “Today, as I said, I felt like I had my fair share of opportunities. It’s not like they weren’t there. I just couldn’t take them today.” Sharapova stated after her loss.
Sharapova’s conceded twelve games today. In the five matches prior she conceded a total of nine.
Nobody would have predicted Serena Williams and Maria Sharpova to lose in consecutive days.
After the match Li Na thanked the crowd, whom are quickly considering her part of the family. She added she “always plays well in Melbourne,” a fact that is becoming more apparent every year. A fact that would work well in her favour Saturday against Azarenka, a player she has lost her last four meetings with.
We offer a tour of the three semifinals on Thursday as the Australian Open reaches its penultimate stages in both the men’s and women’s draws.
Sharapova vs. Li: The two highest-earning women in the WTA prepare for their latest chapter in one of its most curious rivalries, defined largely by the ebbs and flows in Sharapova’s career. Sweeping all five of her meetings with Li before shoulder surgery forced her sabbatical, she struggled with this opponent’s steadiness and steeliness in dropping four straight upon her return. The tide turned markedly in 2012, however, not long after Sharapova had signaled her resurgence by reaching finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Winning a clay encounter of excruciating suspense in the Rome final, she dismantled Li with ease in both of their hard-court meetings for the loss of seven total games.
Under this rivalry runs the intriguing undercurrent of their coaches. While Sharapova works with Li’s former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, her semifinal foe has enlisted the services of Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez. Just as Hogstedt surely can impart valuable insights to his charge, then, so can Rodriguez from his experience watching the Belgian duel with Maria on a multitude of grand stages. In their 2012 meetings, Sharapova showed a commitment to breaking down Li’s forehand, her more powerful but less reliable wing. Although most fans know these women best for their backhands, their forehands again could play a key role in determining the outcome, for they generally mirror the responses of both women to pressure.
Pressure is not something with which Sharapova has grown familiar this fortnight, in which she has dropped just nine games. But she has saved an astonishing quantity of game points and break points in winning nearly all of the multiple-deuce epics that she has played. Li, who also has not lost a set, showed similar fortitude in sweeping the vast majority of her long games against Radwanska, toppled by her in the quarterfinals. Not lacking for courage or fortitude, each woman will take audacious swings at any opportunity that presents itself in a match full of splendid shot-making—and abysmal errors as well.
Azarenka vs. Stephens: Rarely do opponents collide for the first time in a major semifinal, but even more rarely does a woman reach a major semifinal in just her seventh main-draw appearance at one of the four elite tournaments. While Sloane Stephens probably would not have reached the semifinals without Serena’s back injury, she deserves credit for keeping her composure despite her inexperience when that match stretched deep into a final set. Now, the 19-year-old faces the challenge of rebounding within a day from the most important victory of her career, not an easy feat to achieve even for someone of greater experience.
Not suffering from any physical woes at this stage, Azarenka has not looked quite her unbeatable self of early 2012. The top seed did look more impressive in her quarterfinal than in any previous stage of her title defense, outlasting a severe first-set test from a resurgent Kuznetsova. As the tournament has progressed, Azarenka has begun to serve with greater authority, a key against an opponent in Stephens who still does not earn many free points on her serve. If the defending champion can claim and consolidate an early lead, the underdog might fade. All the same, the American teenager does not look the complacent sort who would content herself with reaching the semifinals. Stephens brings a precocious willpower to the court that bodes well for her future as an elite contender, and she likely will force Azarenka to earn her third straight berth in the final of a hard-court major. What remains unlikely is the potential of her still-developing games to threaten the extremely polished, balanced weapons wielded by the world #1.
Djokovic vs. Ferrer: Twice before have they intersected on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic winning both in straight sets. He swept the Spaniard in two semifinals at the US Open as well, conceding only one total set in those two matches. Outside the clay where Ferrer plays his best tennis and Djokovic his worst, in fact, the Serb has dominated this rivalry relentlessly with the strange exception of the year-end championships. Denied in all four of his major semifinals, by one of the ATP Big Four each time, Ferrer must overcome a significant mental hurdle to make his Sunday night debut.
Finding the confidence that eluded him for so long in marquee matches, Ferrer did record a minor breakthrough last fall by securing his first Masters 1000 shield. And he has become a far more consistent threat at majors in the latter stages of his career, reaching the quarterfinals or better at each of them for the first time in a season last year. At this tournament, however, he has hovered a few notches below his finest form, fortunate to escape his compatriot Almagro in the previous round when the latter failed to serve out the match three times. Famous for his consistency, Ferrer donated more errors than usual in that match and repeatedly struggled to hold serve, an ominous sign ahead of his battle with the best returner in tennis history. An ominous sign for Djokovic, meanwhile, lies in the nine sets that he has played across the last two matches, which have forced him to dig deeper into his reserves of energy at this stage than he would prefer.
Nevertheless, every man who has played a five-hour match before the final—except the perennially star-crossed Andy Roddick—has won the Australian Open, and the world #1 has won 19 consecutive matches at the major that has witnessed his greatest successes. Aiming to move just one victory from a historic Melbourne three-peat, Djokovic should weather Ferrer’s limited offense with ease and chip away at his defense inexorably in a grinding baseline encounter.