Tuesday, January 27, 2015

USA vs. Russia, no matter what

19-year-old Madison Keys reached her first major semifinal today when she defeated Venus Williams  6-3, 4-6, 6-4 at the Australian Open. Keys--whom Chris Evert pointed to as a potential champion many years ago when Keys trained at the Evert Academy--dominated Williams throughout much of the match, and did so while carrying a left adductor injury.

To put the whole thing in context: It's quite a statement that Williams, after everything she has been through, reached the quarterfinals of a major, and it will be more than interesting to see how far she can go at Wimbledon, which she has won five times.

Keys--much like her coach, Lindsay Davenport--is a major ball-striker. So is Venus Williams, but Williams' serve gave her problems in the quarterfinal match, and Keys was able to take advantage. There is some question about how Keys' injury will affect her in the semifinals, which are played tomorrow, but one somewhat neutralizing factor is that her opponent, Serena Williams, is sick with either a cold or some other respiratory disorder.

Williams has coughed her way through the tournament, and she sounds really hoarse. However, being ill didn't stop her from running over her quarterfinal opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, who was last year's runner-up. Williams won 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour. She hit 15 aces and and was completely dominant on every part of the court. This is generally how it goes for the world number 1: She starts out a bit shaky, but when she reaches the business end of a major, she gets into a zone that cannot easily be penetrated.

Now she will face a countrywoman very much her junior to determine who goes to the final. At the same time, Maria Sharapova will also face a countrywoman, Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova has never defeated Sharapova, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a chance.

The "other Russian" has been at home on the big stage (not so much on other stages) for years, and every season, she advances a little farther. Last year's U.S. Open marked her first appearance in a major semifinal, and the occasion seemed to be more than she was prepared to face. I think she's more prepared now. Makarova has yet to drop a set in Melbourne, and her lefty serve is a dangerous one.

The tennis world has been so focused on the singles stories that one of the tournament's major upsets has been almost ignored: Top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were upset by Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the third round. In the quarterfinals, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova took out 3rd seeds Makarova and partner Elena Vesnina.

The doubles final will feature the unseeded Mattek-Sands and Safarova (both superb doubles players, so no real surprise) and 14th seeds Chan Yung-Jan. The return of both Chan and Zheng to a major doubles final is one of the most interesting things to happen at the tournament. Chan (a wild card, partnered with Chuang Chia-Jung) was the runner-up at the 2007 Australian Open. Zheng and partner Yan Zi won the Australian Open in 2006, and they also won Wimbledon that year. Yan and Zheng won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.


svente said...

This tournament is shaping up nicely. I had some doubts in rounds 1&2 when it seemed some of the upsets were random but since the Round of 16 it's been solid. Tough players playing good, smart tennis and the stronger on that day advancing. I can see so many different scenarios just altering one or two points in several matches. It's nice.

Of course, bladdy, bladdy, bladdy, there is no depth in women's tennis...

Diane said...

Kind of the best of both worlds--plenty of drama in the upsets, and now this. I hope the semifinals are very competitive.