Monday, January 26, 2015

Cibulkova and Williams emerge in thrilling round of 16 matches

Dominika Cibulkova (whom, by the way, I predicted good things for several years ago in Charleston when hardly anyone had heard of her), when she's on, can be a bit scary. She runs down everything and she hits the ball as hard as anyone. When you consider Cibulkova, Halep and Justine Henin before them, you wonder if perhaps the whole "big babe" narrative has been overdone.

Cibulkova has powerful legs and a powerful core. She knew, early on, that she would need them if she were going to succeed in professional tennis. For several years, she had to retire from matches because of hip and back injuries, and you never saw her without a thigh wrap. But she found a team that helped her get past that. Her problems now seem to be more mental, but she's in excellent mental form in Melbourne, just as she was last year when she reached the final.

Cibulkova's task today was to take out two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, and she did so, hitting 44 winners in her 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Azarenka just couldn't stay away from Cibulkova's lethal forehand, and it did her in.

That was a thrilling and exhausting (even for spectators) match, and it was followed by another extravaganza, this one put on by top seed Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza. It was Muguruza who took Williams out of the French Open last year, beating her 6-2, 6-2. And it was Muguruza who beat Williams 6-2 in today's first set. It looked like the French Open all over again, with the Spaniard out-hitting the world number 1 in stunning fashion.

Williams, I should mention, was clearly not well. She actually sounded like I've sounded for the last several weeks, what with all the coughing. The similarity ends there, however. Whereas I've barely been able to slog through my housework and occasionally go to my office for a while, Serena was able to withstand the onslaught and go on for two more ball-pounding sets. She defeated Muguruza 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, but part of her victory must be attributed to the Spaniard's gradual meltdown. By the third set, Muguruza had become an error machine. The young star seems to have only two final-round gears--play a bagel set or fade away.

Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska will play in the night match, but next up are the Madisons. Madison Brengle has won more tour-level matches this year than she she had previously won in her entire career. That is a very interesting fact in itself, but when you add to that the fact that she has advanced to the round of 16 at the Australian Open, it becomes amazing. The part about playing someone named Madison in the round of 16? You could never make this stuff up.

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