Monday, January 20, 2014

A veteran and an upstart advance to Australian Open semifinals

The Genie Army was ready today, with a list of songs and a stuffed wombat. And after playing for two and a half hours against Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open quarterfinals, Eugenie Bouchard had enough energy left to run toward the stands and collect her wombat, one in a series of stuffed Australian creatures thrown to her by her enthusiastic fans.

The way this Australian Open has been going, it was hardly a surprise that someone would sustain an injury in the quarterfinals. Today (and let's hope today is the only day), it was Ana Ivanovic, who received medical treatment for her hip (not the bandaged one) in the middle of the second set. Ivanovic had taken the first set 7-5, after she and Bouchard broke each other five consecutive times. Ivanovic served for the set at 6-4, then had to serve for it again at 6-5.

As the match went on, Bouchard became more aggressive, and she didn't appear to be the slightest bit thrown off by her opponent's injury. Ivanovic, hampered by that injury, nevertheless continued to play at a high level, and I should point out that there was nothing that looked like a mental lapse on her part. Despite her loss today, the Serbian player made a strong statement in Melbourne, and could actually be on a true comeback.

As for Bouchard, she made a pretty big announcement today, charging into the semifinals of a major. She hit 47 winners and made 37 unforced errors, and she broke seven times out of thirteen opportunities. She also won at the net 79% of the time. Those are good numbers. The 19-year-old Canadian can improve her serve and she can become more comfortable with hitting up and down the lines.

Bouchard failed to make it out of qualifying at last year's Australian Open. The 2013 WTA Newcomer of the Year is suddenly spinning forward with all of the power of a ball that might be hit by someone like Li Na.

Li Na. That's who Bouchard has to play in the semifinals, and--assuming Li stays out of Na Na Land and continues on her present path--there isn't much likelihood that we'll see a stuffed platypus on the court at the end of the match. But an assumption is just that; with Li, there's always that bit of uncertainty, and Bouchard showed today that she isn't shy about taking advantage of her opponent's weakness.

It's been almost 30 years, by the way, since a Canadian woman made it as far as the semifinals in Melbourne. Win or lose in the next round, Bouchard has already made a mark on Canadian tennis.

Li beat Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-2, and--not to take anything away from Li, who was superb--but Pennetta just didn't look right. Maybe she was ill; maybe she was just having a really bad day.

In doubles, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears ended the surprise run of Shahar Peer and Silvia Soler-Espinosa. The 8th seeds beat Peer and Soler-Espinosa 6-4, 6-0 and advanced to the semifinals. And in the second round of mixed doubles, top seeds Anna-Lena Groenfeld and Alexander Peya were beaten in the second round by Zheng Jie and Scott Lipsky.

Tomorrow, Simona Halep will play Dominika Cibulkova and Aga Radwanska will play defending champion Victoria Azarenka. It's likely that we're headed toward another Li-Azarenka final, but when the temperature reaches 108 degrees on court and wombats fall out of the sky, you can't be too sure about anything.

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