Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Petra crashes the Barty Party, Danielle Collins blows up the whole show, and Pliskova perfoms a magic trick

It had been seven years since Petra Kvitova had reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and five years since she'd reached the semifinals of any major. Meanwhile, Ash Barty, with her inventive play and crack serve, has been entertaining the home crowd for over a week. But Barty's glorious run came to an end yesterday when she came face to face with Scary Petra.

Kvitova's straight set win over Barty was no surprise, considering how the Barking Czech has been playing in Melbourne (well, in Australia--she won the Sydney title). On the other hand, Kvitova is nothing if not unpredictable, and we never know when she's going to be done in by the weather, by illness, or by whatever goes on in her head sometimes. But, so far, so good. Really good.

Kvitova's first and second serve win percentages were 74 and 50, she won 71% of her net attempts, and converted three of five break points (Barty converted zero of three). The Czech star's reaction to winning such a huge match was emotionally driven, as one might expect, given her history. Her next opponent will be, of all people, Danielle Collins.

Collins, it's safe to say, has had the most unexpected run of anyone at the Australian Open. Prior to arriving in Melbourne, she had yet to win a main draw match at a major. In the opening round, she beat 14th seed Julia Goerges (a reality with which I'm still trying to come to terms). In the next round, she defeated Sachia Vickery, and in the third round, she took out 19th seed Caroline Garcia. But it was in the round of 16 that everyone was forced to pay attention, when the 25-year-old USA player totally dismantled the game of 2nd seed and 2016 champion Angie Kerber.

You can go back and re-watch that fourth round match and still not totally comprehend what happened. We're talking about Kerber, who runs down every ball, finds angles unknown to mere humans, and has a mean transition game. But against Collins, she never had a chance.

These things do happen from time to time, and it would be only routine to expect Collins to fall apart in her next match. And for the first set, she did. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova made easy work of Collins in the opening set, winning it 6-2. But even as I waited for the match to continue, there were thoughts lurking in my head. Thoughts like, "Collins isn't going to go down like a loser." And "Pavlyuchenkova can fade away faster than you can say 'Petra Kvitova,' and Collins knows it."

And sure enough, Collins made a steady comeback in the second set, winning it 7-5. Then she had momentum, and then, the Russian player went all Pavlyuchenkova and sort of disappeared. And that was that, as Collins won the set 6-1.

Thank goodness for Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who came onto the ESPN set to interpret Collins for the commentary gang. Mattek-Sands explained that Collins, who was a champion collegiate player (winning two NCAA singles titles and finishing 2016 as the top-ranked player in the nation), was doing the college tennis thing--yelling and fist-pumping and emoting all over the place. "I may not be for everyone," Collins had told Mattek-Sands, whose reply was "You're just getting this?!"

Collins, I'll note, has an undergraduate degree in business and a master's degree in media studies from the University of Virginia. She was the first UVA woman to win an NCAA singles title.

Quarterfinal play continued today as U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka took on Elina Svitolina. Osaka took the first set 6-4, then began the second set with a 3-0 lead. Svitolina, who had problems with her neck in an earlier match, underwent medical treatment for it again in the second set.

The Ukrainian star, known for her fast legs and her clever defense, just couldn't get to many of the balls coming off of Osaka's racket. In the second set, she appeared sluggish, which--I assume--was related to her ongoing physical woes. Osaka won the match (she made it look easy)--which should have been quite competitive--6-2, 6-1.

Finally, seven-time champion Serena Williams played Karolina Pliskova for the last semifinal position. The Czech player made only five unforced errors in the first set, and had a first serve win percentage of 81. Breaking Williams once, Pliskova won that set 6-4. The second set went better for Williams. Serving at 4-5, Pliskova had multiple game points, all erased by Williams, who took the set 6-4 on her first set point.

Then Williams turned up the dial--the way she has so many times--and went up 5-1, only to be broken. She twisted her ankle, trying to get to a ball, and she committed a foot fault on a match point in the seventh game (and yes, Pam Shriver and the rest of you who want to make the rules "convenient"--a fault is a fault, regardless of when it's committed).

It should be noted that Pliskova continued to make very few errors throughout the third set. She won her next game, after breaking her opponent, so Williams served for the match again at 5-3, but was broken at love. Pliskova then saved three match points on her own serve, and held for 5-all, in what was a very gutsy performance. At that point, the usually stoic Czech bent over and let out a huge yell. She then followed that feat by breaking Williams at love.

Pliskova then served for the match and went up 40-0, only to have Williams bring the score to 30-40. But when Pliskova served on her third match point, she was able to convert it.

Williams wasn't the same after she twisted her ankle, though she didn't call for the trainer, which makes it hard to determine exactly what happened.

Being down 1-5 in the third set of a big match and then winning is dramatic. Being down 1-5 in a big match against Serena Williams and then winning is kind of hard to describe. Pliskova, discussing her third set, said "My mind was in the locker room--but I was still here."

Pliskova will play Osaka in the semifinals.


Todd.Spiker said...

"(and yes, Pam Shriver and the rest of you who want to make the rules "convenient"--a fault is a fault, regardless of when it's committed).">


colt13 said...

Re:College tennis-Having gone to a number of matches, primarily with mid majors Boise State and Omaha, she is right. The crowds aren't very large, so what happens is that there may be six matches at once. Then when each player finishes, they become the cheering section for the ongoing matches. So with the last match, you not only have the crowd, but the whole team cheering also.

It can get loud.

Pliskova probably should have won in two, then did what Hantuchova and others could not in beating a compromised Serena.

Vishal said...

Very nice blog, I really appreciate it

Diane said...

You have a point about Pliskova, colt. And I’m thinking she may have been more compromised mentally—about the injury—than she was BY the injury.