Saturday, January 20, 2018

Refusing to drag their injured feet, Halep and Davis put on a show we won't forget

Coach? Check. Physio? Check. Podiatrist??

Tennis players probably have the most beaten up feet of any athletes. They pound their feet for hours, often on hard courts. They slide, they run forward, they run sideways. Their ankles are always vulnerable, and blisters are always just a sock thread away. Yesterday, world number 1 Simona Halep and world number 76 Lauren Davis played for three hours and 44 minutes ( the third set lasted two hours and 22 minutes) in the Australian heat, and both had to deal with foot issues. Halep was victorious--4-6, 6-4, 15-13.

Halep had injured her ankle in her first round match against Destanee Aiava, and there had been talk that she might have to withdraw from the tournament. But she went on to defeat Genie Bouchard in the second round, and then--still dealing with a compromised ankle--had to face Davis. Don't let the ranking fool you--Davis, when she's really on her game, is capable of going into hitting machine mode, and she was very much on her game yesterday.

Doing everything Halep did--and often better--the five-foot-two Davis was relentless, both physically and mentally. As the third set dragged on, one couldn't help but think of the Australian Open masterpiece that Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova created in 2011. Schiavone showed up with a groin injury that had kept her out of Hopman Cup play, and Kuznetsova's feet were covered with blisters. They played--marvelously--for four hours and 44 minutes, and Schiavone won it, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14. The pair would go on to more or less repeat this performance at the French Open four years later, when they played for "only" three hours and 49 minutes. Again, Schiavone won--6-7, 7-5, 10-8.

Halep and Davis created plenty of their own drama. It was enough that an injured world number 1 was playing in the heat against a player who just would not let up. In the third set, it was obvious that both women were suffering, but they kept going. At one point, it appeared that Davis might be cramping, but she wasn't--she was having trouble moving because her toenail had fallen off. More foot issues. She would take a couple of medical timeouts for both feet during this very long set.

Halep had other third set issues. She served for the match three times and was broken three times. In the 22nd game, Davis held three match points on Halep's serve, but was unable to convert them. Would it ever end?

It did, as Davis's energy and resolve finally wore down. And when it was over, Halep said she felt that her muscles were gone, and--when asked about her ankle, said that she didn't know how her ankle was because "I don't feel it anymore."

Next for Halep will be big-hitting Naomi Osaka, who defeated Australian hope Ash Barty.

In third round news, 2016 champoion Angie Kerber soundly defeated Maria Sharapova in straight sets. I expected Kerber to win, but was sad to learn that she had pretty much blown Sharapova off the court. But the season is young, and the Russian has time to pull her game together.

Also, Hsieh Su-wei did it again. After taking out 3rd seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round, she defeated 26th seed Aga Radwanska yesterday. Lucky loser Bernarda Pera's run came to an end at the hands of Barbora Strycova, Karolina Pliskova--playing under the radar, the way she likes it--defeated Lucie Safarova, Madison Keys defeated Ana Bogdan, and Caroline Garcia defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

My pick for the next match to watch is the quarterfinal contest featuring Petra Martic and Elise Mertens. Both women are playing extremely well, and this has the potential to be an exceptional match.


jwr said...

The Halep-Davis match was so exciting and well-played that, about half-way through the "normal" part of the third set, ESPN3's Australian announcers started treating it like an actual tennis match, as opposed to a psychodrama rooted in physical and emotional fragility. That alone was miraculous.

And I have to say that, even though I want Simona to win the tournament, I couldn't keep a smile off my face. It isn't every day you see two players who can't just hit through each other and aren't going to concede anything mentally so perfectly matched on such a grand stage. I stopped being nervous at about six-all in the third because it was just such a joy to watch.

Nondisposable Johnny

Diane said...

Well said. And I felt the same way! I wanted Simona to win, but the match became larger than any fan desire or player destiny.