Monday, January 22, 2018

Kerber survives brilliant Hsieh

The glory of Hsieh Su-wei's 2018 Australian Open continued yesterday, even though she lost her round of 16 match to 2016 champion Angie Kerber. Hsieh's mistake was not winning the match in straight sets. By the time the two players reached the third set of this extremely physical match, Hsieh was running on reserve energy, and that energy gave out. But in the first two sets, the veteran from Chinese Taipei, known for her doubles skills, put on a show that had Kerber running, stretching, tumbling, falling, and generally throwing herself into a constant scramble to keep up with her opponent's almost casual dominance.

Hsieh, using two hands on both sides, took the ball very quickly and cracked angled groundstrokes that left Kerber bewildered. She hit the gentlest drop shots, outwitting even the very speedy German. And she hit overheads that were delivered in what appeared to be the height of nonchalance. Hsieh made it look so easy. And of course, all of her doubles experience was reflected in the way she judged the court and handled the  net.

Finally, in the latter half of the second set, Kerber was able to assert herself. And the third could have been a toss-up if Hsieh hadn't finally wound down. Often, in these types of matches, the higher ranked player takes the third set because the opponent has finally caved in mentally, but in this case, Hsieh's demise was obviously physical. At the end of the 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 match, Hsieh--who had already taken Garbine Muguruza and Aga Radwanska out of the tournament--received a hugh crowd ovation as she left the stadium. Kerber, for her part, passed an important test. Now, she has to face another one, in the form of Madison Keys.

Keys handled Caroline Garcia with amazing ease, hitting 32 winners, including 9 aces, and allowing the talented Frenchwoman to win only five games in a match that lasted only an hour and eight minutes. World number 1 Simona Halep also got the job easily, defeating upstart Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-2. And, playing into the middle of the night, Karolina Pliskova defeated countrywoman Barbora Strycova 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

In doubles, 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina won their third round match, as did  5th seeds (and reunion team) Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic.

Today, quarterfinal play begins, and--lucky me--the match I really want to see is the day match, featuring Elise Mertens and 4th seed Elina Svitolina. Mertens has become a serving machine, and throughout this tournament, her serving has been consistently excellent, which partly explains why she's in the quarterfinals (though, in the round of 16, she played someone else with a very good serve--Petra Martic). I'm expecting a very good match.

The night session features Carla Suarez Navarro and 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki.

Here is the complete singles quarterfinal lineup:

Simona Halep (1) vs. Karolina Pliskova (6)
Angelique Kerber (21) vs. Madison Keys (17)
Elise Mertens vs. Elina Svitolina (4)
Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Carolina Wozniacki (2)

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