Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Genius and the Domi-Nator advance to Australian Open semifinals

Often, it takes Simona Halep a set or even a set and a half to realize to what extent she has positioned herself on the court to prohibit her aggression. Generally, at that point, she becomes aggressive and plays catch-up. Today, in the Australian Open quarterfinals, she never really reached the second step of that needlessly complicated process. Halep kept her distance and became the latest victim of Dominika Cibulkova, who really does have a new attitude.

Cibulkova pretty easily beat Halep 6-3, 6-0 in what was a less-than-stellar showing from the Romanian player. It was way stellar from Cibulkova, though. The Slovak had first and second serve win stats of 76% and 50%, and she broke her opponent five times. She made it look pretty easy, and it took her exactly an hour to get the job done. The victory puts Cibulkova into the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in her career. In her next match, she'll play someone she may not have expected to face.

The best way I know how to describe the first set of the match played between Aga Radwanska and defending champion Vika Azarenka is to say that Radwanska very skillfully lulled Azarenka into a false sense of insecurity. Pulling out every trick in her considerably overstuffed trick bag, Radwanska  lobbed (brilliantly), spun, dropped, and pace-changed Azarenka into a state of visible frustration. Watching Radwanska made me long (as I always do) for the days when wildly versatile shot-making and savvy were what mattered in tennis, and the quick, very clever players were rewarded for their speed and cleverness. Give me a Radwanska or a Hingis or a Mandlikova any day.

But I digress. Radwanska won the first set 6-1, but Azarenka pulled herself together for the second set, yet didn't cut down enough on the unforced errors to have an easy go of it. Radwanska's service level dropped a bit, but not enough to make a significant difference. The set appeared to be headed toward a tiebreak when Azarenka broke Radwanska when she served at 5-6.

Throughout the match, the defending champion appeared to be less than emotionally steady, but we've seen that from Azarenka before, and it isn't always a bad sign. But today, she was fighting to go for a third title, and she was being flummoxed right and left by her opponent. The third set was about as show-offy as anything I've ever seen from Radwanska. She was getting to balls that mere mortal tennis players--even the really good ones--just can't get to, and when she got to them, she was hitting winners. She hit volleys from her toes, volleys from behind her back, volleys from places you don't usually see on television. Radwanska's level of anticipation from all parts of the court was practically perfect. Azarenka didn't win a game.

It's always hard to make this kind of judgment, but this very likely was the best performance of the Polish star's career. I caught myself gasping and exclaiming throughout the final set. If Azarenka showed up not quite glued together, by the middle of the third set, she had to be practically unraveling. She made a total of 47 unforced errors, while Radwanska made 15.

So Radwanska--into the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in her career--will play Cibulkova in the semifinals, and Li Na will play Genie Bouhard. Not what most people expected, but very interesting.

Meanwhile, 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina advanced to the doubles final with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory over 8th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.


jo shum said...

Aga played the match of her life. Have not seen anything quite like this. Vika played badly but not too badly which she usually scrapped through. That will teach her a lesson to clean up her holes.

Sabey said...

That third set by Aga was some of the most beautiful tennis I have ever seen in my life. Brava Aga!

Diane said...

I watched most of it again this morning--I was gasping all over again. What a set!

svente said...

I still can't get over how tremendous Aga was! Absolutely stunning. What a treat that was.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I have seen some comments about how Vika was not up to her usual standard, with all the errors and such, I disagree (especially after such a convincing win over Stephens). Watching the match it was apparent Radwanskas play was frustrating to the point of making Vika go for too much on everything. It's not often Vika has in match moments of emotion the way she displayed today, since her ascent in 2012, so just shows how frustrating it would be to play a zoning Radwanska. This is the first AO match that had me literally screaming at my TV and clapping (perhaps a bit close to tears at the end). I hope Vika picks herself back up though, she is still one of my favourite players to watch (with decent variety as far as an 'offensive baseliner' can possess).

Love how right after you had pointed out Radwanska often prematurely concedes matches to players like Azarenka, she came out and decided no more. It's this kind of self belief that can carry her to a maiden slam. Maybe she reads your blog :)

Diane said...

She should listen to me more often!