1. The Serena Williams – Ana Ivanovic match is a perfect example of a match that can be summarized in two sentences: Player A (Ivanovic) played extremely well, and Player B (Serena) was hobbled. Injuries happen in sport, unfortunately, and I’ve always found it bizarre not to talk about them within the context of a match.
In the second and third sets, it was bizarre to see Serena Williams have so much trouble with her best-of-tour backhand. She could put no pace on her usually deadly two-hander, and found it difficult to even keep those backhands in play, let alone get any sort of depth. For the match, Serena finished with 15 backhand unforced errors from the back of the court, compared to just 5 forehand unforced errors from that same place. Ana Ivanovic, who has a much worse backhand, ended with just 9 unforced errors in that category. Something was up.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena’s coach, didn’t let too much time go by before he released the news that Serena had tweaked her back in practice before the Hantuchova match. Not a serious injury, but significant enough to noticeably affect Serena’s game.
That being said, Ana Ivanovic played one heck of a match. Presented with the gift of short balls, she did not hesitate to be take control of points. Her execution was mostly excellent, particularly in the last two sets. I also thought that her extremely aggressive return stance paid dividends handsomely (and again, Ana’s execution was superb – she ended with 16 clean return winners. Serena only had 3 – and she’s the best returner on the planet).
If Serena had been healthy, could Ivanovic have gotten away with all the good things she did today? Probably not, given that in their previous four matches Ivanovic failed to take a set from the 17-time Slam champ (or even win more than 4 games in any of those 8 sets). Still, executing at a high level against injured opponents is not the easiest thing to do – plenty of men and women fail every year at that tricky task.
Hence, it’s not difficult to acknowledge Ivanovic’s impressive feat. But the context in which it happened is not to be ignored.
2. Flavia Pennetta is going to turn 32 in about a month, and she’s playing some phenomenal tennis. Wouldn’t it be incredible for her comeback to take her all the way to her career high ranking of No. 10 again?
3. Let’s not beat around the bushes: Fabio Fognini was an embarrassment to the sport yesterday. He played a Grand Slam Round of 16 match with the intensity and focus of someone who’s reluctantly hitting with a friend in the park. What’s worse is that Fognini isn’t some talentless hack that made it to the fourth round by sheer luck: he’s the World No. 15. And the more I watch him play, the more I’m convinced that he’s got top-10 talent.
Unfortunately, all of those skills were given to a top-200 competitor. Shame on you, Fabio. Shame on you.
4. Genie Bouchard is into a Slam quarterfinal at age 19. She came out of what I thought was a wonderful section for a newcomer to break through (Madison Keys, it should’ve been you there against Bouchard tonight). Just look at Bouchard’s path:
Bouchard's route to the quarters: 1R. Tang (#487) 2R. Razzano (#100) 3R. Davis (#68) 4R. Dellacqua (#120).
— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) January 19, 2014
Casey Dellacqua fought bravely for about a set and a half, but you could see that little by little she regressed into the form that has kept the Aussie outside the top 100.
I’ve been watching Genie play sparingly in the past year, and there are things she does that I do appreciate: she competes extremely well, her first serve looks good, and you can tell that she is trying to problem-solve constantly. However, her groundstrokes keep leaving me underwhelmed. She constantly struggles to get some pop on shots that she wants to be aggressive with, and plenty of her neutral balls lack depth. These short balls get her in trouble, but fortunately for her, she anticipates well, and covers the court decently. Also, Genie is good at looking for the open court, and using angles to disguise her often pedestrian groundies.
Still, Bouchard does compete very well. You can tell that she enjoys the spotlight, and that she’s hungry for more and more success. Plenty of fighters before her have made it into the top 10 with the same kind of attitude. But I’m still really hesitant to guarantee a spot for her in that select group.
5. Stan Wawrinka had to feel like a deja vu was taking place, and not of the pleasant kind. For a set and a half, he was utterly devastating against Tommy Robredo, and found himself serving for a two set lead. However, just like last year against Novak Djokovic, he flinched, played a loose game, and lost his break advantage. The main difference was that this time, the Swiss regrouped just in time to force a breaker, which he took.
It had to feel good to experience such a similar situation, but craft a different outcome, no? We’ll see in two days if Stan can indeed produce a different result when he’s faced with the man who beat him four times last year. The first two were five setters, but the last two were routine straight-sets wins for Novak Djokovic.
Who, lest we forget, is on a 28-match winning streak.
1. Let’s start with the most important thing. I cannot stop laughing at this, tweeted by Kat who was in Rod Laver Arena yesterday:
Saw Boris on the way out. Couldn't work the elevator out. Pressing both the up and down buttons.
— Kat (@returnwinner) January 19, 2014
Novak Djokovic: This is Your Coach.
2. I thought the women stole the show last night–the Kerber vs. Pennetta and Williams vs. Ivanovic matches were both highly compelling theater, for very different reasons.
I though Kerber and Pennetta matched up well against one another, and it was a fun display of shotmaking, power, and creativity. Although there were hiccups from both, they didn’t bother me in the context of a gritty, back-and-forth battle. It helps that I enjoy both of their games, because they’re not dominated by one shot or one solution (power, defense, etc.) but rather by a combination of answers.
I continue to hope that Kerber gets back to the top of her form and threatens the top 5–and I did see glimpses of that this tournament–but it is just thrilling to have the goddess that is Flavia Pennetta back gracing us with her presence in the latte stages of slams. At 32, she’s just getting better with age, and the effort and passion she puts into her matches certainly puts her countryman Fabio Fognini to shame.
Plus, she does things like this:
— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 19, 2014
And she makes Gise happy:
— Gisela Dulko (@gidulko) January 19, 2014
3. So, Ana Ivanovic or Genie Bouchard will be in the semifinals of the Australian Open. I must say, I didn’t see that one coming! Ivanovic was just spectacular last night, playing the type of aggressive tennis that wins people majors. I give full kudos to her for keeping up her drive and determination throughout the years when she was in a downward spiral–that cannot be easy. I’m very curious to see if she can sustain this form in 2014–if she can, an already interesting WTA season just got a whole lot more intriguing.
As for Bouchard, she’s always had a bit of an attitude that I thought would suit her well in her chosen career–she wasn’t happy just to be in the top 100 or just to be the highest-ranked Canadian. She saw bigger things for herself, and she wasn’t going to be complacent with less. That’s the attitude you want in teenagers, and it’s certainly a big reason why she’s in her first Australian Open quarterfinal at the age of 19. Gosh, the future of the WTA looks blindingly bright.
4. Fabio Fognini should be fined for his performance yesterday. Period. Everyone associated with tennis should be embarrassed at the (lack of) effort that he showcased. Just putrid and depressing.
And gosh, it really seems like the press left him off the hook, doesn’t it? Some grilling.
5. Li beat Makarova in 59 minutes. That’s terrifyingly efficient. Dare we get excited?
6. It’s really easy to forget that Serena Williams is human. But she is, and sometimes humans get injured and have off days. Acknowledging that Serena was injured doesn’t take away from Ivanovic’s feat, because plenty of players have lost to an injured Serena. Instead, it’s just one more reminder that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. Not wins, not losses, not players, not points. Anything truly can happen. That’s why we watch.