Saturday, January 22, 2022

Australian Open third round hints at thrills to come

Sometimes, in a major, really good early rounds somehow give way to less than exciting semifinals and finals. One hopes that this phenomenon is coincidental and not somehow causal, because--if the latter is the case--we're in for some really dull final matches.

There were some real thrillers played in the first week, as well as some major upsets. Gone are:

3rd seed Garbine Muguruza (2nd round)
6th seed Anett Kontaveit (2nd round)
defending champion Naomi Osaka (3rd round)
2020 champion Sofia Kenin (1st round)
2016 champion Angie Kerber (1st round)
Coco Gauff (1st round)
2019 runner-up Petra Kvitova (1st round)
2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu (2nd round)
Olympic gold medal winner Belinda Bencic (2nd round)
Elina Svitolina (3rd round)
Clara Tauson (3rd round)

The third round was the thrill round, with several matches (unfortunately, often shown at the same time) showcasing great skill and athleticism from both opponents. Danielle Collins was down a set and a break against Clara Tauson, but fought her way to a three-set victory in a tense and exciting match. Barbora Krejcikova came back from a set down against an in-form (at least, for a set and a half) Alona Ostapenko to claim a hard-won victory.

Tamnara Zidansek had to battle both an injury and an opponent in the third set of her match against Alize Cornet. Cornet prevailed, but if the injury hadn't occurred, this match would have been even more exciting. Then there was Amanda Anisimova, who is definitely back on the upswing, and her victory over defending champion Osaka. Anisimova did it in the riskiest, most tension-filled way possible--in a third set tiebreak. 

But perhaps none was as thrilling as the the match played between two close friends--Marta Kostyuk and Paula Badosa, who are also two of the most talented young players on the tour today. Watching them, I couldn't help but think that some day--maybe sooner than we think--we'll see these two in a big final. Their athleticism alone is stunning, and they both have polished skills, good movement, and they can read the court well. Badosa prevailed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

Of all the upsets, the one that surprised me the most was Kontaveit's, though losing to the up-and-coming, progressively dangerous Clara Tauson is nothing shameful at all.

One of the key stories so far is the resurgence of two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, who has reached the round of 16. I was disappointed, however, to hear Azarenka apologize for her former "bad attitude." It was that bad(ass) attitude that helped make her the champion that she is, and it also helped to promote the oh-so-shocking idea that women can be competitive and aggressive. But then, isn't it just like a woman to apologize for being herself?

Another good story belongs to Alize Cornet, who had not reached the round of 16 in Melbourne since 2009, and then--as she did this year--she achieved the milestone on her birthday. Cornet upset Muguruza in the second round, and--in an act which probably surprised even her biggest fans--she backed that up with her defeat of Zidansek. I consider the very talented Frenchwoman to be the biggest underachiever on the tour, and--sadly--one of the biggest pro tennis underachievers ever.

What's next? Here is the round of 16 singles draw:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Amanda Anisimova
Jessica Pegula (21) vs. Maria Sakkari (5)
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24)
Madison Keys vs. Paula Badosa (8)
Danielle Collins (27) vs. Elise Mertens (19)
Simona Halep (4) vs. Alize Cornet
Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Sorana Cirstea
Kaia Kanepi vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)


Kelsey said...

Kontaveit`s blood-letting by a 19-yr-old Tauson? A bit like Sakkari falling to Pegula or Badosa to Keys in two swift sets, or Collins taking three sets and nearly three hours` quivering with subdued rage, to finally squeeze a narrow win over Clara at 7-5 in the third. No, no - not shameful at all.

Diane said...

Well said.

colt13 said...

Um, I think the 4th rd delivered.

This has been a wonderful slam on court. Nice mix of veterans and younger stars going toe to toe.

Diane said...

Thanks to my poor sleep, I was waking up frequently. I'd pull up the ESPN+ app on my phone, and get totally knocked out by what was going on on the court. I didn't get to see that much of the two later matches, but I saw enough to be amazed. And the first two matches were incredible.