Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Australian Open top 10

Port Campbell National Park in Victoria (photo courtesy of Daniel Ward)
My top 10 U.S. Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Shout, shout, let it all out: There were things I could do without when Julia Putintseva and Taylor Townsend played the junior girls' final. Putintseva's court theatrics were possibly the most over-the-top I've ever seen, her ill-timed racquet-cracking was inappropriate, and her loud sobbing was awkward and sad.

9. Out but not down: Defending champions Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta didn't make it past the third round. Dulko and Pennetta were defeated by eventual champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva. I was disappointed to see Dulko and Pennetta go out, but the high-quality match was thrilling, and probably the match I enjoyed most in the entire tournament.

8. One is the loneliest number: With her quarterfinal loss to defending champion Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki also lost her world number 1 ranking. The good news is that she'll no longer have to hear that she's number 1 in the world but hasn't won a major.

7. An ugly pattern: Like Li Na and Petra Kvitova before her, Samantha Stosur--the U.S. Open champion, and Australia's top player--made an exit in the first round of her next major. Stosur lost to Sorana Cirstea in the opening round.

6. Double the drama: In the quarterfinals of doubles competition, two teams engaged in a three-hour contest that ended with bouts of temper, arguing, a (literal) knock-out forehand, and--finally--the conversion of an eighth match point. Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina believed (as did most spectators) that they were cheated out of victory on a previous match point, and things got very tense.

5. Mental health insurance: In her semifinal against Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova looked lke she was going down 0-40 and was about to get knocked out of the match. But a timely line call challenge was followed by a not-so-timely mental collapse by Kvitova, and Sharapova squeaked through to the Australian Open final. Sharapova's tenacious fight was as good an example as any of why it pays to compete strongly up to the very last point.

4. Too good: They were unseeded, but Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva know a thing or two about playing doubles. They took out the top seeds, kept going, and won the tournament. Kuznetsova, who has had mixed results in singles for a while, played outstanding doubles throughout the tournament.

3. Hit me with your best shot: The round of 16 match between defending champion Kim Clijsters and 2011 runner-up Li Na was a dramatic event before anyone even picked up a racquet. When Clijsters turned her ankle in the middle of the first set, no one knew what would happen next. The defending champion played on, but she looked flat and worried. Li held four match points in the second set, and the fourth one was the nearest to a "sure thing" that exists in tennis. But Li ignored the wide open court, hit the ball right to her opponent, and lost the set. She also lost the match, and--while Clijsters' saving four straight match points is considered a highlight of the tournament--it was just as significant that, once again, Li went to pieces and did herself in.

2. Ekaterina, queen of Upset City: There's something about the Australian Open that Ekaterina Makarova really likes. This year, she took out Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi and 7th seed Vera Zvonareva, then--just for good measure--defeated five-time champion Serena Williams. Williams did not play well, and,  most surprising of all, she did not serve well. At the same time, though, Makarova didn't do what so many players do--allow a top player to beat them, even when that player isn't performing too well. Williams sprained her ankle not long before the tournament and may not have been at her physical best, but her round of 16 exit was nevertheless a major upset.

1. The reign of Victoria: 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka, who won the Sydney tournament before arriving in Melbourne, started looking like a winner as soon as she hit the Australian Open courts. Her semifinal defeat of defending champion Kim Clijsters, which included a set in which Azarenka won only one game, had to give her even more confidence. She began awkwardly against Maria Sharapova in the final, but quickly shook her nerves, and proceeded to dominate the 2008 champion in almost every game. Azarenka not only walked away with the trophy--she's also the new world number 1.

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