Thursday, January 23, 2014

Li and Cibulkova to compete for Australian Open championship

The Genie Army had to pack its artillery of loud songs and stuffed Australian creatures and leave the battefield yesterday when their cause, Eugenie Bouchard, fell in straight sets to two-time Australian Open finalist Li Na. It wasn't a surprise. Bouchard is an impressive hitter with a lot of instinct, but she isn't quite ready to take on Li.

After the match, Bouchard--who rather quickly found herself down 0-5 in the opening set--set that Li's hitting winners from side to side "just wasn't really my game." It was Li's game. And the crosscourt backhands coming off of Li's racket were deadly.

Bouchard did get to 2-5 in the first set, and she saved a set point. She had a clean slate after that, and went up 2-0 in the second set. But she had little breathing room, despite the break, and Li won that set 6-2. Li would go on to win the second set 6-4.

In the other semifinal, there was a different vibe altogether. The women's semifinals are played the day after the quarterfinals conclude; neither Agnieszka Radwanska nor Dominika Cibulkova had a day of rest between the quarterfinals and the semifinals. Theirs was the only match in the tournament in which this unfortunate phenomenon occurred. It didn't appear to bother Cibulkova, who came out like the fireball she is, and took control from the first ball struck.

Radwanska, on the other hand, was done before she even started the warmup. Her amazing performance against defending champion Victoria Azarenka the day before had apparently taken the very tennis soul out of her. I suspect it was much more of a mental thing than a physical thing, though she was undoubtedly physically tired after all that running and squatting and twisting that she did in the quarterfinals.

At any rate, Radwanska was slow and mediocre in her shot-making, and just "not there." But I don't mean to take anything away from Cibulkova, who was spot-on throughout the match. Cibulkova has had a problem with choking throughout her career, and during this tournament, she held fast mentally, even at really big moments. Her reward is a trip to the final.

The Slovak has had a few things going for her at this tournament. She's not only mentally stronger, she has also improved her serve. And she had some luck, too, when she most needed it. Her quarterfinal opponent was so nervous she could hardly play, and her semifinal opponent was physically and mentally spent. Had Halep and/or Radwanska played at their usual levels, who knows what might have happened? But they didn't, and that's tennis, and now the hard-working, hard-hitting Cibulkova gets a crack at Li Na.

The doubles final is also set. Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, who defeated Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in the semifinals, will play 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

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