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.
After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.
First quarter: Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament. Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister. Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack. The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw. While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.
Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki. The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings. Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round. Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova. The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw. She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.
Player to watch: Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova
Second quarter: In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena. Case closed, or is it? Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom. An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback. Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses. Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents. Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.
By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition. Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically. But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round. Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open. An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake. There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her. Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.
Player to watch: Stephens
Third quarter: The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way. Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open. Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole. Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year. The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure. Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney. For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.
Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur: the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic. Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since. The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic. Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined. The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne. Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.
Player to watch: Li
Fourth quarter: When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final. In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style. Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point. Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career. Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final. Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.
Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney. A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve. Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round. A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis. The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne. While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.
Player to watch: Venus
Final: Serena vs. Radwanska
Champion: Serena Williams
Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open? I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com. Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.
Here’s a roundup of funny photos from Day Eight of the Australian Open featuring players Kvitova, Tsonga, Ivanovic, Murray, Ferrer, Hewitt, Gasquet and Lisicki among others, Tebowing, calling on the tennis gods, and of course, stripping.
Petra Kvitova paying homage to American football player Tim Tebow by “Tebowing” on court. The only way that this could be more impressive is to Tebow during a point — a fact that Ana Ivanovic has nearly perfected:
This is a photo of Lleyton Hewitt looking for his wife Bec, right? I mean, there cannot be another explanation for this, RIGHT??
In recent statements, Serena Williams has said she “doesn’t love tennis, today” and it seems like tennis doesn’t love her back either. Watch out for those vicious inanimate objects we call tennis racquets, Serena. They’re out to get you, gurrrl!
Perhaps she heard me and is actually apologizing to the tennis gods. But maybe she’s singing and dancing. I can’t really tell.
Not only is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s adidas kit so much better looking in the promotions than on-court, but he’s also missing the tennis ball in his famous “ball-biting” face!
This photo is pretty tame, but the caption makes me scratch my head: “Zheng Jie of China wears an ice pack.” Since when did ice packs become a new fashion accessory, Getty? Not sure the ice pack is getting the proper treatment — maybe they should get Marcos Baghdatis to promote it.
You cannot outdo a good “head stuck in shirt” shot ala Richard Gasquet. A+ for execution. B- for not flexing your abs, Reeshard. Tsk tsk.
Uh, how did these get in here? Anyways. Tomas Berdych seems to have gotten my abs-flexing memo during his afternoon at the beach on St. Kilda. You’re welcome.
Surprise quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova is multi-talented. Not only did she beat Serena Williams in two easy sets, but she was watching Championship Sunday football games at the same time: GOALLLL!
“And I-yee-I will always love youuuu-ohhh…”
Good girl Sabine Lisicki seems to be hushing the crowd in a Berdych-esque way, when in fact she was simply challenging a call. Angles, angles, angles.
And in similar news: placement, placement, placement. Oh, Andy. You make it too easy for us.
And finally, if only because these types of photos have become so common in the past year, dead spots in million dollar tennis tournaments. Here, an official uses a powerdrill during the Kei Nishikori vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match.
Although Gail Brodsky is winless in her first two matches as a professional tennis player, she’s given American tennis fans something to stand up and take notice about.
After hanging tough with top 60 player Ekaterina Makarova in the first set of her pro debut, a WTA event in Forest Hills, Brodsky moved on to the US Open, where she faced world #14 Agnes Szavay in the opening round. In front of a standing room only crowd on Court 7, the Brooklyn native gave Szavay all that she could handle, holding a set point in the first set before losing 7-5, 6-2.
“The whole experience was really nerve wracking, which was definitely unexpected,” said Brodsky. “My hands were shaking at the beginning of the match.”
Brodsky’s exuberant personality quickly brought the New York crowd on her side. While her frequent fist pumps or yells of frustration appeared to be a case of being over excited by the occasion, Brodsky said showing her emotions actually benefits her on the court.
“It just helps me get my anger out,” said Brodsky. “If I keep it inside, I feel like I might play the next point worse or hit a bad shot. I’d rather just let it all out before I play and be calm for the next point.”
Growing up in Coney Island, Brodsky was introduced to tennis on local public courts at the age of six by her father. While Brodsky excelled as a standout junior player in the Eastern region, the limited court time (one hour per day) and number of balls (a maximum of three) that players are allowed to use on New York City public courts prompted Brodsky and her father to seek assistance from Weil Tennis Academy in California.
“When we were starting out in Brooklyn, we would have people trying to kick us off the courts and tell us we were using too many balls,” said Brodsky. “My dad was giving me drills and people were giving us trouble. Thanks to Mark Weil and his academy, we were able to raise my game to a whole other level than I would have been able to in Brooklyn.”
With an abundance of coaching and resources in California, Brodsky’s game flourished. This summer, she reached the finals of the USTA Girls 18s National Championships and became the top ranked junior in the country. She also began to show signs of life on the pro tour, reaching the quarters of a $50,000 tournament in Vancouver.
Brodsky said her recent results prompted her to turn professional, foregoing college tennis for the opportunity to pursue her dream of being a top player.
“My parents always said it was going to be my decision,” said Brodsky. “And very recently, I think it was August 14th, I sat my family down and said that I was ready to go pro. They were very supportive and just said that we should give it a shot.”
After competing in the junior tournament at the US Open next week, Brodsky will head out for four consecutive tournaments on the USTA Pro Circuit, the tennis equivalent of Triple A in baseball. While her ranking currently sits at No. 382, Brodsky said that she has much loftier intentions for the future.
“I think anybody you ask would tell you they want to be No. 1 in the world,” said Brodsky. “The question is whether I can keep pushing to get there, but that’s definitely my goal for the future.”
NEW YORK – Despite flashes of flaws in his once-perfect game, Roger Federer moved a step closer Friday to his fifth consecutive US Open title.
Federer, playing in his first Grand Slam tournament in more than four years as anything other than as the number one seed, defeated Thiago Alves, a qualifier from Brazil, 6-3 7-5 6-4.
Friday produced yet another big upset in the women’s singles as Katarina Srebotnik knocked off third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-7 (1) 6-3. That came a day after the top seed, Ana Ivanovic, fell to qualifier Julie Coin.
“I think she served better than I did,” Kuznetsova said of Srebotnik. “She served so many aces. I had many chances, especially in the first set, but somehow I overdid it.”
Although Federer has moved into the third round on the hard courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without dropping a set, against Alves he was shaky on his volleys and committed a bundle of unforced errors.
“I wasn’t comfortable at net from the start,” Federer said. “And in the second set, when it got tough, he dug out some shots and everything seemed to go against me on those break points.”
Against his outclassed opponent, Federer hit 54 winners. But he also had 46 unforced errors as he repeatedly missed the mark with his ground strokes and found the net with his volleys.
At times Federer appeared hesitant and his play was sloppy. He was caught in no-man’s land several times, and time and again found the net with his shots. He had problems closing out service breaks, allowing his opponent, a qualifier playing in only his second US Open, to stay around longer than most of the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium had expected.
But when he needed a point, Federer showed he still is the player who has won 12 Grand Slam tournament titles. He never looked as if he was in trouble, and for the most part he held serve easily, using his well-placed serve to gain easy points.
“I was never really in danger, so it was actually pretty good for me,” he said. “I knew the longer the match would go the more tired he would get, so it was a good match for me.”
On match point, Federer whipped a half-volley forehand cross-court that landed on the sideline near the far corner. As the tournament’s defending champion raised his hand in triumph and the umpire began to intone “game, set and match,” Alves challenged the call and, smiling broadly, appeared to apologize to Federer for doing so.
The two stood at the net and watched together as a replay showed the ball landed squarely on the line. Federer again waved to the crowd. And again the crowd responded with a cheer.
“After everything I’ve got through already, these are the early round matches, so it will only get better from here,” Federer said. “Yeah, so I’m really happy to be playing well. Everybody’s cheering me on, so it’s a nice feeling.”
Federer says he’s not worried about his game, despite what he reads and hears in the media.
“I guess we’re talking about it today, and if I win the title you forget about it again. That’s usually how it goes,” he said.
Keeping pace with Federer was third-seeded Novak Djokovic, who advanced to the third round with a 7-6 (8) 6-4 6-4 victory over hard-hitting Robert Kendrick. Federer and Djokovic could meet in the semifinals.
Among the other early winners Friday included fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Gonzalez, Nicolas Almagro and Dmitry Tursunov.
In some of the other women’s singles played Friday, second-seeded Jelena Jankovic stopped China’s Zheng Jie 7-5 7-5 for a spot in the fourth round. She was joined by fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva, a 6-3 6-4 winner over Britain’s Anne Keothavong 6-3 6-4; Li Na of China, who ousted Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-1 4-6 6-2; and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who eliminated 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4 6-4.
NEW YORK – The fact he’s number one in the world makes no difference to Rafael Nadal.
“I have the same goal,” he said Monday night. “When I was number two, the goal was the same, was win the US Open, The goal wasn’t win the US Open to be number one. The goal is win US Open, no?”
Coming off yet another title – the latest an Olympic gold medal in Beijing – Nadal opened his first Grand Slam tournament as the top-seeded player by beating back pesky qualifier Bjorn Phau of Germany 7 6 (4) 6 3 7 6 (4).
“He played well today, but I didn’t play with normal intensity,” Nadal said of Phau, who has spent a lot of time playing Challenger tournaments and not on the main tour. “Important thing, finally, is to win.”
One top player failed to make it past the opening day of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Tenth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze was ousted by fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 1-6 6-2 6-3.
Phau was a match for Nadal in speed and quickness. And his penetrating shots kept the Spaniard on the run. Still, while Phau matched Nadal with 37 winners each, the German doled out nine more errors than his higher-ranked opponent and continually had to battle to hold his own serve.
Nadal, on the other hand, held easily and faced only three break points in the match, losing serve just once.
“I am a little bit tired, yes, but it is US Open so I have to try my best here,” Nadal said. “I’m going to try to try my best for sure.”
Playing in only her second US Open main draw, Makarova pulled off the opening day’s biggest surprise by ousting Chakvetadze, who was a semifinalist here last year.
The 20-year-old Makarova, one year younger than Chakvetadze, won only one more point than her opponent. But her points came at the right time as she broke Chakvetadze twice in each of the last two sets.
Also losing her first-round match was Shahar Peer of Israel, who fell to Li Na of China 2-6 6-0 6-1. Peer was seeded 24th.
“She never miss,” Li said of Peer’s first-set play. “And in the second set I just tell myself, `OK, right now you just play your game. Don’t give up.’ I know every first round is tough for the player, so I just try my best.”
Li, who reached the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics, only to lose the bronze medal match, completely dominated after the opening set. She finished with 28 winners, compared to just seven for Peer.
Amira Paszek of Austria surprised 22nd seeded Maria Kirilenko 6-3 3-6 6-4.
In the men’s singes, two seeded players were eliminated.
Feliciano Lopez of Spain, the 27th seed, was beaten by Austria’s Jurgen Melzer in one of the day’s longest matches 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-2 2-6 6-4. And 29th-seeded Juan Monaco of Argentina fell to Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-2 5-7 6-2.
“It was a great win, I think, because he’s a good player and seeded,” Nishikori said. “I didn’t think I was going to win, so I’m happy of it.”