Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another big upset in Melbourne

I woke up this morning (my only "up all night" project is the final) stunned by the news that Madison Keys had defeated Petra Kvitova in straight sets in the Australian Open third round; I thought Kvitova was headed for the final. Petra herself put it best: "I don't know what happened, but I couldn't put a serve in."

I don't know what happened, either, but this time, I'm inclined to interpret Kvitova's problem as a "bad day." All players have them. She's obviously fit, she's feeling less afraid since bringing Alex Stober onto her team to help her with her health issues, and she's looked quite confident lately. The Barking Czech was both philosophical and honest about her loss, saying that she couldn't really feel happy about anything right now, but at least she did better this year than she did in 2013 and 2014.

As for Keys, she would have given Kvitova trouble on a good day, with her relentless groundstroke-pounding and what appears to be a new level of confidence. Keys broke the world number 4 five times, devouring the Czech's weak second serves. Her next opponent? Madison Brengle.

Brengle, who was recently treated for skin cancer, has gotten her act together this season in a big way. (She even looks different--more mature.) Brengle began her Melbourne campaign by upsetting 13th seed Andrea Petkovic. She then beat countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe, and will play Keys in the round of 16.

Who's about to be number 12 in the world? Venus Williams! Williams was seriously challenged by Camila Georgi in the first set of their third round match, but then the Italian player fell apart, almost on cue, and Williams was able to dominate. Williams will next play Aga Radwanska, who beat Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets.

Serena Williams, five-time Australian Open champion and world number 1, also got a challege in the form of Elina Svitolina, a young player I've had my eye on for a while. Svitolina was pretty much bossing Williams around in the first set. which she won, but then Williams cleaned up her game and took the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-0.

The world number 1's next opponent will be Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Timea Bacsinszky in a match that began quite competitively, but then--in the third set--turned into yet another Muguruza on-court bagel delivery service. You'll recall that the Spaniard took Williams out of the French Open last year. Yesterday, Williams described that match as one that "opened my eyes toward a lot of things." In other words, you might want to take a good look at Muguruza and enjoy her while you can.

In the most entertaining match I saw yesterday, 2014 runner-up Dominka Cibulkova defeated Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-2, and it was exactly the kind of animated, drama-filled match one would expect from these two. Cibulkova has her Australian Open on, readers.

Another wonderfully drama-filled contest took place between two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who, not long ago, elevated her already fine career to an entirely new level. I've always loved to watch BZS, and the new BZS is even more fun than the old one. Azarenka prevailed, 6-4, 6-4, but it was no walk in the park. It was a task. And the next task will be to play Cibulkova, who lost in last year's final to Li Na.

We have arrived at the round of 16, and one quarter of the draw is made up of women from the USA, two of whom are named Madison. Who saw that coming?

And now, it's Madison time!

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