Lindsay, Amy, and Juan José have a back and forth about Maria Sharapova’s dominating run down under at the 2008 Australian Open.
Lindsay: Hey guys! As we gear up for the Australian Open–which starts tomorrow(!)–I thought it would be fun to look back five years at the 2008 Australian Open on the women’s side.
Going into the tournament all eyes were on Serena and Justine. Serena was the defending champion, and Justine was the current No. 1 who had defeated Serena in the quarterfinals of the other three Grand Slams the previous year. Luckily in this tournament the earliest they could meet was the semifinals. Few expected at the beginning of the fortnight that it would be Maria Sharapova and the Serbians who would steal the show. It was an event that seemed to at the time signal the changing of the guards.
I remember when the draw came out that all the talk was about how top-heavy it was. Serena, Justine, and Maria were all up there. A resurgent Lindsay Davenport was lingering there too, slated to play Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster second round. (Note that this was the first big tournament following the epic Justine/Maria WTA Championships clash in ‘07.)
Juan José: The 2008 Australian Open will always be special for me, but for different reasons: that’s Djokovic’s first Slam, and I did watch all of his matches there. Back then I didn’t pay much attention to women’s tennis, but I do remember Sharapova starting her crazy run and being amazed by it. However, I have a feeling I saw more of the women’s side of the tournament than I actually remember.
Amy: To be honest, I had just graduated from college at the end of ’07, and was working my first job, so I missed much of this. Having an Aussie Open watching schedule while working on the Hill wasn’t realistic.
Lindsay: I understand that. I was in my final year at college and was working on my thesis film, so I was up all night every night anyway. I think this was my first time watching a whole lot of the Australian Open, as I had a big apartment with lots of roommates so we had a great cable package and a real-life living room. It was fun. But it was also a loft and my friend slept upstairs without a door so I had to keep the volume really low and sit right in front of the TV.
I woke her up yelling during the Kohls/Roddick match.
Amy: Haha. I’ll bet.
Lindsay: Should we take a look at the seeds first?
Juan José: Kuznetsova at No. 2. Two Slams and she never reached No. 1. Chakvetadze at No. 6. That made me sad. Serena and Venus side by side, at 7 and 8. Hantuchova in the top 10?
Lindsay: Seeing JJ and Ana in the top 5 is so alarming, and so sad. They were so good then.
Amy: Yeah, Ana’s 2008 seems incredibly distant from her current form.
Juan José: 2008 was the golden year for Serbian tennis, no? Slams in singles from a man and a woman. Zimonjic won Wimbledon with Nestor, too.
Lindsay: Look at Dinara down at 16, way before anyone expected anything of her. The next year she was a disappointment in the final and was the No. 2 seed!
Juan José: In 2008, Safina was “I won’t come remotely close to what my brother achieved” Safina. Dementieva at No. 11, that also made me sad. I miss watching her play.
Lindsay: Who is Julia Vakulenko?
Amy: Julia Vakulenko, also known as “Kimmie Killer!”
Julia became Kim Clijsters’ last opponent in her professional career (before Clijsters’ return in 2009). Julia won 7–6(3), 6–3 in the second round of J&S Cup in Warsaw, Poland on May 3, 2007. This earned her the nickname “Kimmie Killer.”
She was born in Ukraine, but switched to represent Spain in ’08. You don’t see that very often.
Juan José: Isn’t it funny to see the future French Open champions Schiavone and Li Na sitting next to each other, in the 20s?
Lindsay: Yup, and Zvonareva is right there too. Who would have thought between the three of them in the next three years there would be six grand slam finals and two trophies?
Juan José: Eh … Nobody.
Juan José: Kerber is in the first section! That first round is classic Kerber – five years ago!
Amy: I was laughing at her scoreline. It’s so very Kerber. She gets bageled in the first set, but comes back and wins the match in three sets.
Juan José: She’s allergic to winning in straight sets.
Amy: I’ll bet there was plenty of SarcastiKerber in action.
Juan José: I wish there were a video of Kerber getting bageled in that first set. SarcastiKerber is a given, and so is Kerber DeathGlare.
The recent Shenzhen finalist is here, too, Zakopalova.
Lindsay: Hsieh bageling Bammer was a huge upset at the time. And Rezai beating Golovin — yet another player from that generation whose back took her out of the game.
Juan José: Also, what’s the deal with Rezai? She hasn’t been heard from in a while. I swear the only reason I remember her is from the infinite Tennis Channel “Bag Checks.”
Lindsay: Rezai and her gold lamé have just fallen apart. She and Cornet were so promising and now … Yikes. It’s funny because Marion gets so much criticism for having her father involved in everything, but when you look at the French Federation and what it’s done to the female players this generation it’s hard to see the fault. If only they all had crazy Papa Bartolis.
Juan José: They’d all change serves every six months. But agreed, Cornet was supposed to be big. Didn’t Rezai have some issue with her dad? Like, a serious issue?
Lindsay: Yes she did. Very sad. This is a good interview about it.
That entire Schiavone/Henin match in the third round is on youtube. Can we pause this for a few hours so I can watch? No?
Justine had no competition at all. She breezed through everything without dropping a set and there was no foreshadowing what was to come in the quarterfinals.
Juan José: A Federer-esque section for Justine.
Lindsay: This run by Sharapova here is what I remember. She thrashed Davenport, Vesnina, and Dementieva. (One of these things is not like the other.)
Amy: It’s funny, as she goes on, she drops fewer and fewer games.
Juan José: Yes, her toughest match seems to be her first round one against J. Kostanic Tosic, whoever that was.
Amy: Peak Maria is pretty scary. Unless you’re Serena Williams.
Lindsay: When she killed Davenport like that, everyone really took notice. It felt like it might be Maria’s tournament even though everyone else was still in the draw. It was that impressive.
This was Davenport’s mini-comeback, before she got hurt and then pregnant. She had been really impressive that fall after the USO and this was a huge test for her. It did not go well.
Nadia Petrova uploaded Maria’s post-match presser to YouTube. That was nice.
Interesting in that presser that Maria talks about how she’s not worried about her shoulder anymore. That was not the story five months later.
Juan José: Sara Errani is here! She pushed Davenport to the edge in their first round encounter, which I find interesting.
Lindsay: Wow, this video. A baby Errani, crazy music, and Italian commentators. I love Italians.
Juan José: Love the music. I swear that’s Beethoven.
Amy: Yes, it’s the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Lindsay: It’s just such a funny/AMAZING thing to add to tennis.
Juan José: Did you see that volley by Errani at 1:58?
Lindsay: Crazy. She was ranked around 70 at the time. This was only Errani’s 2nd Grand appearance. Not a bad showing.
Amy: Great video, Lindsay. what a find.
Lindsay: Nice to see Julie Ditty in that section, the ITFer and WTTer who was once on the Fed Cup squad.
Lindsay: Those scorelines. JJ and Momo.
Juan José: There’s that awful match, Paszek-Jankovic! That match was a nightmare. Only seven of the 22 games in that third set were holds. It was awful. I have no idea why I watched that match, but I did. And I remember it being atrocious. Needless and endless drama.
Lindsay: She tried to warn us what was to come.
Amy: Dellacqua had a pretty impressive run.
Juan José: What happened to Dellacqua since then? That seemed like a coming out party, and it doesn’t seem like it has translated into much.
Amy: She’s had a ton of injuries, and a couple surgeries.
Juan José: I do remember the Dellacqua run, though. The Aussies were going NUTS. Nice little run of wins over Schnyder and Mauresmo.
Amy: 2008 was her best career year by far, and this tournament was her best Grand Slam performance.
Juan José: Shvedova is here, but playing under the Russian flag. Also, Cibulkova is here! I bet she annoyed the heck out of Pennetta.
Lindsay: I bet. I would love to have seen that.
Lindsay: Nicole Vaidisova, ladies and gentlemen.
Juan José: Mrs. Stepanek! Sharapova 2.0, supposedly.
Lindsay: I remember the Vaidisova/Serena fourth round match. It was closer than the scoreline suggested. I still hold out hope for a Vaidisova comeback.
Lindsay: I loved her. Still do, I suppose.
Amy: A very young Vika is in this quarter.
Juan José: That’s a weird kit Azarenka is wearing. Weird in that it’s completely standard.
Also, a visor?
Lindsay: I had completely forgotten that Vika/Serena match! I don’t think Vika was on my radar at all then. Also look at that section — four qualifiers, both playing each other. It was Serena, Vika, four qualifiers, a wild card, and Agkul.
Amy: Zvonareva retired in the first round with an ankle injury.
Lindsay: Sad. I wonder how Madison Brengle got that WC. I don’t really remember hearing about her until recently. She was 18 at the time, did the USTA have the playoff then?
Amy: Yes they did.
Lindsay: Here it is, she and Levine got wild cards in a playoff.
Lindsay: Venus had a cupcake draw. Wow. How lovely.
Amy: Yeah, she really did.
Juan José: MARTHA DOMACHOWSKA.
Lindsay: Tell us about her, JJ.
Juan José: Not much to say. Just, MARTHA DOMACHOWSKA.
It’s interesting that she made it to the Round of 16 as a qualifier. That’s hard to do. She took Li Na out in the process, although I’m guessing Li did some of the damage herself, as always. Also, Bartoli getting bounced in the first round as the 10th seed is kind of hilarious.
Lindsay: Aga had stolen her Polish spotlight. She had to do something. I bet that Arvidsson/Bartoli match was amazing and a disaster.
Juan José: About Bartoli … I thought you might find this interesting.
Lindsay: Oh, Marion.
Amy: Is Bartoli the most consistently ranked player ever? It’s so funny, she’s always ranked around the same range.
Juan José: Bartoli is always there, looming. Trying out different crazy drills, different crazy serves. Yet at the end of each year, she’s more or less around the same spot in the rankings.
Amy: We’ve got Wozniacki in this section, and this happens to be the beginning of her rise. It was her best Slam performance so far in her career. In fact, it was the first Aussie Open she’d ever played.
Juan José: How old was she back then?
Lindsay Gibbs: She was 17. Here are highlights from her fourth round match against Ivanovic. Future number ones!
Amy: Is it me or is Ivanovic’s court movement completely different? She looks so much more active on every shot. She moves her feet really well.
Lindsay: They are both moving so well. Caro is so bouncy. I’m having a hard time watching any highlights without Beethoven music.
Amy: Ivanovic just looks so completely different. I don’t know what happened.
Juan José: It’s funny, but you can see in this video the essential problem Wozniacki would have in years to come: that forehand is so soft, and lands so short. It gets her in so much trouble. Still, Dulko got trashed by the Woz.
Lindsay: Trashed. What was Woz ranked then?
Juan José: She started the year ranked #64.
Lindsay: She was ranked No. 12 by the end of 2008, so this was really when she came on the scene.
Juan José: That first match is so sad.
Amy: The heartbreaking Petkovic retirement. Of course.
Juan José: That was depressing.
Lindsay: Then they played each other 2 years later and Chakvetadze fainted. These two …
I really miss Chakky. This was the first major after the robbery that she suffered. It’s pretty amazing that she was making it to the third round of the Australian Open a month later.
You have the emergence of Kleybanova in this section too, just a qualifier at the time.
Juan José: Yep – Kleybanova stars in that Lindsay Special, 9-7 in the third set against Peng.
It’s funny to see Virginia Ruano Pascual playing singles and winning matches. She won eight doubles Slams with Paola Suárez, but I think their partnership was over by 2008. Ruano Pascual won the French Open that year and the next with none other than Anabel Medina Garrigués.
Amy: Kirilenko had a good performance here. It was the first time in her career that she reached the fourth round of a Slam.
Juan José: Hantuchova was the star of this section. Her career title haul is hilarious. Pattaya City twice, Indian Wells twice, and Linz.
Lindsay: She just loves it at Indian Wells. Of course, the Williams Sisters don’t play there.
I love that Safarova was the 22nd seed and lost in the first round to a nobody. Because some things never change.
Amy: Radwanska reached her first career Slam quarterfinal in this tournament.
Juan José: I don’t remember this at all. The Ninja into the quarterfinals? At age 18?
Lindsay: It was right after her big breakthrough in New York, taking out Maria, when I first became a fan.
Amy: She had a very good year in 2008 at the majors. Two fourth rounds, two quarterfinals. In fact, until 2012, that was her best career year at Slams.
Lindsay: She beat Kuznetsova in the third round.
Juan José: Naturally. Lindsay, I think you remarked about how terrible Kuznetsova’s record in Oz is? Two quarterfinals. That’s … horrific.
Lindsay: It’s so, so bad. The Australian Open should be her surface, slower hard courts. Perfect!
Juan José: Remember when people thought Petrova could win a major?
Lindsay: According to Sanchez it’s her year!
Amy: Check out that scoreline of Radwanska-Petrova. After Petrova handed Radwanska a breadstick in the first set, Radwanska bageled her in the last set!
Lindsay: It is just so Radwanska-Petrova.
Juan José: Yeah. Just by looking at that scoreline I can see Petrova losing her cool in the third.
Lindsay: This is when all the upsets happened. Most would have thought Justine, Serena, and Venus would have advanced. It was not so. Sharapova completely demolished Justine to the point where Justine was just shaking her head after the match. This would be the last major of Justine’s first career.
Juan José: Yeah – didn’t Safina beat her in Berlin later, triggering the retirement and Ivanovic’s French Open win?
Juan José: It’s like Henin said, “Hey, if Sharapova kills me and I lose to Safina on clay, it’s time to go.” I remember reading about that result and not really understanding how that could happen. Four and 0 over Henin? That’s nuts.
Lindsay: It’s crazy because it was so different from their 2007 WTA Championships match just two months prior.
Juan José: AmyLu just reminded me that Yuri Sharapov made the throat-slitting gesture in that match against Henin. That went over so well.
Lindsay: That was that match! I had forgotten about that.
Then there’s JJ. After that terrible match to start the tournament, she comes back and takes out Serena.
From Christopher Clarey:
Jankovic had nasal surgery in the off-season, which she said has helped to improve her breathing. But she has had a series of minor injuries in the early season, putting herself through ice baths for therapy and taking anti-inflammatory medication.
“I cannot give you all the details, because if I would begin I would never stop,” Jankovic said. “I don’t have big injuries, but I have pains and soreness in many places.”
“I’m like a wounded animal but I still keep going,” Jankovic said. “But the most important thing is I fight on the court and always give my best and never give up.”
Juan José: I always liked Jankovic’s game. I thought they put the emphasis on the wrong issues, and derailed her unique ability to change the direction of the ball seamlessly.
Lindsay: It was amazing how one off-season completely ruined her. She tried to build muscle and lost the ability to walk.
Juan José: Poor Ninja – got destroyed by Hantuchova.
Lindsay: I found Aga’s presser from after that loss. It’s classic.
Q. How did you enjoy your first quarterfinal?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: Anyway, I lost today.
Q. Was Daniela one of the players you admired as a young girl?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: I don’t know. I mean…
Lindsay: Meanwhile, I remember being very upset by Ana/Venus. The bottom half was so open that I thought Venus had a great chance to get to the final. I was convinced she was going to beat Ivanovic, and I got a little ahead of myself.
Lindsay: The Bollettieri Bowl: Jankovic vs. Sharapova. According to this, JJ gave up in the last game and ended the match injured and with tears in her eyes, had to take four painkillers just to play.
In the first set Sharapova took a 5-0 lead before you knew it, but then Jankovic came back and won three consecutive games. However, that was where her strength ended. In the second set Jankovic was slowly fading away. She left the court for treatment after losing her serve in the opening game.
“I wanted to withdraw, but it was not fair for the crowd,” the 22-year-old Serb said.”
Juan José: She did say earlier that she had a ton of injuries. Iverson-like.
Lindsay: The lasting memory from the 2008 Australian Open was the Ivanovic-Hantuchova semi. I mean, Dani was in control. She was breezing. The entire narrative was that Ana had come out too scared.
Juan José: Hantuchova won eight straight games to start the match! When was it that Hantuchova failed to put away a hobbled Serena at Wimbledon?
Juan José: The year before. When you have that match in your history, a story about squeaky shoes will never go over well with anybody.
Lindsay: The squeaky sneaker controversy was my favorite thing. Gosh, this match had everything. An epic choke. Squeak-gate. A double bounce controversy!
Amy: Couldn’t ask for anything more.
Lindsay: The worst thing about this was that every single person called it the GLAM SLAM and I wanted to throw up.
Juan José: It was the WTA’s dream come true, given the emphasis they put on looks, no?
Lindsay: It’s crazy to look back at this final because at the time everyone thought this rivalry was the future. It was their fifth match and they were 2-2 against each other. It was Ana’s second GS final and Maria’s third Slam. They were both 20. Everyone talked about how it was going to be a rivalry for years to come – the Glam Slam. The word sultry was used a lot.
But they have only met two more times, never again in a Slam, and not until this year.
Juan José: That’s fascinating. You never know how things will turn out, even when they look like sure things, like this match-up.
Amy: The word sultry should never be used in women’s tennis, really.
Lindsay: I’m laughing at this whole article.
Amy: It’s so frustrating to see the tennis media encouraging that. Let casual fans fawn over them, whatever. But the media shouldn’t be focusing on some sort of model-off.
Lindsay: After this match and the extreme hype and marketing money put into these two, heir paths diverged, they didn’t converge. And the WTA had all those rough years because so much focus and attention had been put into this rivalry and these stars that just couldn’t hold up. Then when Justine retired there was a hole. There was no more Glam Slam — there was Dinara Safina, and sometimes Serena, and sometimes JJ, and the stories that had been written suddenly didn’t hold up.
Juan José: Yes, the men have the Big Four now, but the women could have had an awesome decade. Sometimes even having all the best ingredients doesn’t work out.
Lindsay: It shows how fragile things are. It also shows why you need a media narrative that focuses on athletics and the sport; not looks, superstardom, and invincibility, which are fleeting.
Juan José: The NBA suffered from that same mistake – you don’t build your sport on stars that are temporary. You built it on the love for the game. That’s the true success of the NFL and soccer everywhere.
Lindsay: Exactly. But back to the match. I remember it being straightforward but fairly entertaining, and just a wonderful moment for Maria who had gotten demolished by Serena the year before. It was just another reminder to never count Maria Sharapova out. Apparently we need reminders every once in awhile.
Juan José: Yet, given Sharapova’s nature, it’s not surprising, really. She just keeps going, even if her serve kind of deserted her mid-career. She’s the greatest overachiever in history, I think.
Amy: Sharapova is so high profile and popular with fans, but I almost feel like she doesn’t get talked about enough in the tennis world at this point in time. I think it makes some sense because she has so many technical flaws in her game, but she’s remarkably consistent in her results and had an amazing year. She’s World No. 2, but nobody really brings her up. She flies strangely under the radar, but I’m sure she likes it that way.
Lindsay: Also, to give kudos to Ana who we’ve not really talked about enough during this chat, her 2007-2008 stretch was spectacular. A French Open final, a Wimbledon semi, Australian Open final, then winning the French Open. It does make me sad that she’s such a different player now. She is so far off of the path.
Juan José: Final thoughts?
Lindsay: This Slam really proves how fickle everything is, and how even with the best athletes in the world you can’t predict what’s going to happen. So just appreciate it? I don’t know if we’ll ever do that.
Juan José: It was fascinating to look at how everything that seemed to come into fruition at that Slam ended up being a mirage of sorts . So many things have changed in such a short period of time.
Amy: Aside from what you guys have already said, it’s always fun to look back and see which young players were emerging early in their careers. Look at Radwanska, Wozniacki, Kirilenko, Azarenka, and many more we mentioned. You never know at the time, but sometimes a good run from a young player really is a sign of things to come.
Lindsay: Caro, Aga, Lisicki, and Kerber were all planting the seeds.
Juan José: Even Errani.
Lindsay: Even Errani. (Cue the Beethoven music.)
It’s really interesting that your draw analysis of the men’s 2006 French Open was mainly about the seeds being sown for future storylines, while your draw analysis here of a women’s final that came 2 years later is mainly about potential future storylines that ultimately failed to bear fruit. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Enjoyed this very much. Completely agree with the comments on the WTA’s often-misguided marketing, although I’ve heard a contrary opinion, which is that it helps to encourage girls to take up and keep up sport – the idea that sportswomen can’t be feminine is still quite a strong one, and so part of the WTA’s emphasis may be to counter that.
Slight tangent – how often does one see things like “women’s tennis should be graceful” in comments; or “Radwanska is such a feminine player compared to the muscly ones who only know about power and no brain?” Too fucking often, IMO.
People forget just how good Ivanovic was, up to and including her French Open win. I hear “fluke” hovering on the edge of conversations so much – and it really wasn’t. It was the culmination of a year of great play.
If we’re talking serves deserting players for no apparent reason, I’d put Ana in that category rather than Maria. Sharapova’s shoulder injury and surgery really wrecked her serve for her – and the reason people kept on mentioning it in commentary is that the effects were still visible years later. Maybe even *are* still visible, despite last year’s return to #1 & career slam.
Love the glimpses of Baby Caro and Baby Vika. I also remember when people talked them up as the rivalry of the distant future. Again, hasn’t worked out that way, at least not so far. I think Caroline played Jankovic at Wimbledon that year, and really showed her stuff – IIRC she took a set. First time I’d seen her play and I really enjoyed it. She seems to have lost some of her energy and visible fight since then.
I’m not saying you’re doing this, Linz, at all – but sometimes, the hoping for Vaidisova to make a comeback strikes me as a bit entitled. She’s clearly happy where she is now, and it’s equally clear that playing tennis on tour didn’t make her happy. Do we really want her to come back when she’s made it very clear that she doesn’t want to? What does it say about us that we want her back despite her feelings on the matter? Why can’t we just leave her alone and respect the choices she’s made? (and why can’t we just get over the fact that she loves Stepanek and stop judging them as a couple? Grr. GRR.)
Justine getting hammered still puts a smile on my face. Lovely game to watch for sure, but I just could not warm to her.
I’m not sure that Ana was ever anything more than a lovely illusion. Her victory over Venus here was the only win in her career against the foursome of Venus (1-8), Serena (0-3), Justine (0-5) and Kim (0-5).
Ana is 1-21 lifetime against the best players of her time. She was very fortunate, IMO, to have dodged them all in the slams in which she did well, and the confidence issues which were to plague her after she rose to the top are easily understandable considering those numbers.
That said, thank you for an entertaining look back at a fine tournament.
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