Thursday, January 28, 2016

The KareBear countdown gains momentum in Melbourne

Photo by Daniel Ward, art from

Who's that comin' from somewhere in the sky?
Moving fast and bright as a firefly
"Care Bear Countdown 5-4-3-2-1"

Angelique Kerber, whose 2015 season was remarkable in regular tour competition and unremarkable in majors, has arrived at a major final for the first time in her career. The 7th-seeded German defeated British upstart Johanna Konta yesterday, and thus became one of the last two women standing at the Australian Open. Kerber wisely conserved her energy during her semifinal match, which she won in straight sets. One got the sense she was counting on some nerves from Konta, and that instinct turned out to be a wise one.

Konta, for her part, has made good on her 2015 promise. She is now the number 1 player in her country, and her Melbourne performance indicates that she has successfully challenged herself to keep improving. Konta's poise on the court is especially commendable. She's the straightforward kind of player who can hold focus as she enters a more challenging part of her career.

Kerber has her work cut out for her. Her opponent in the final is world number 1 Serena Williams, who has pretty much romped through this tournament after facing a first-round challenge from a Fighting Italian. Her defeat yesterday of 4th seed Aga Radwanska was made easier by Radwanska's now-classic failure to perform at the stunning level of which she's capable when she sees Williams on the other side of the net.

For much of the second set, we did get to see some true Radwanska style; it looked, in fact, like the match might go to three sets. But when she had a game point to go up 5-4, the Polish star let up, and that was pretty much that. Just about all she saw after that moment were balls passing her and landing in unreturnable places on the court. Williams closed the match in signature fashion with a series of aces, followed by one final successful volley.

I don't think Kerber is going to freeze at the sight of Williams, and the final could be an entertaining one. Kerber's finely tuned rhythm of alternating outstanding defense with fiery aggression has served her well in the past year. But, speaking of "serving," the German falls short. There was a time, several years ago, when she was serving rather well, but now, her serve is arguably the weakest part of her otherwise excellent game. She will have to get in as many first serves as possible against the tour's most lethal returner.

While everyone was busy talking about the upcoming women's singles final, the two-headed monster known as Santina had to fight itself in science fiction movie style. Top seeds Sania Mirza and Ivan Dodig defeated defending champions Martina Hingis and Leander Paes 7-6, 6-3 in mixed doubles quarterfinal competition. Hingis and Mirza, who are the top seeds in women's doubles, will play 7th seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the final later today.

Also, in the upcoming women's wheelchair singles final, top seed and defending champion Jiske Griffioen will face countrywoman and doubles partner Aniek Van Koot in the final.

Williams and Kerber get to take a bit of a rest, since the women's final isn't played until Saturday. Here are their paths to the final:

round 1--def. Camilia Giorgi
round 2--def. Hsieh Su-Wei
round 3--def. Daria Kasatkina
round of 16--def. Margarita Gasparyan
quarterfinals--def. Maria Sharapova (5)
semifinals--def. Agnieszaka Radwanska (4)

round 1--def. Misaki Doi (saved a match point)
round 2--def. Alexandra Dulgheru
round 3--def. Madison Brengle
round of 16--def. Annika Beck
quarterfinals--def. Victoria Azarenka (14)
semifinals--def. Johanna Konta

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