Tuesday, January 16, 2018

AO.2 - Have You Seen This Woman?


Be advised. There has been a Kerbernator sighting on the Australian Open grounds.

Proceed with caution, and advance at your own risk.

Finally, after her long season of discontent, a campaign in which her game failed to consistently fire for long and she could never quite rediscover that spark that had so recently lifted her to the greatest heights of her career, Angelique Kerber was back where it all started twenty-four months ago. On Day 2, the 2016 Australian Open champion, unlike her experience in Melbourne a year ago, emerged unscathed to live another day, her roll undisturbed and her early '18 fortunes still burning bright.

Two years ago, Kerber stared down a match point against Misaki Doi in the AO 1st Round, then went on to win the title, setting the stage for a career year. Last January she was upset in the 1st Round by Lesia Tsurenko, setting the stage for her historic fall over the course of '17, as she dropped all the way from #1 to #22, the biggest non-injury/retirement related slip for a year-end #1 over the course of the following season in tour history.

The omens are more in the German's favor this time around.

Even with the current #1 player in the world, last year's tour title leader, the player with the longest active tour-level winning streak (as well as the player with the longest overall winning run) all lifting championship trophies during the first two weeks of '18, and another singles title being successfully defended, there has arguably been *no* player in better form than Kerber. Undefeated at 9-0 (4-0 in Hopman Cup play, and 5-0 in her first title run in sixteen months in Sydney), the only player to defeat Belinda Bencic since last October (a 6-4/6-1 win in the WS part of the Hopman final), back in the Top 20, and last week a winner of a pair of back-to-back matches in which she dropped the 1st set (after being 3-22 in those situations last season), Kerber arrives at this slam having been tested in nearly every way imaginable over the course of the short two-week stretch to begin the season.

Facing off today against fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam (coming back from a shoulder injury, and maybe best remembered for her near-upset of Aga Radwanska in the AO Round of 16 two years ago before being felled by cramps), for a set and a half, Kerber looked every bit the player who has buzzed through a long list of opponents in the season's opening weeks. She dropped just one point on serve while taking the 1st set at love, and led 4-1 in the 2nd. At that point, Friedsam finally found her footing and made Kerber work a bit more as she leveled the score at 4-4. But after a handful of squandered chances, Kerber finaly got the break for 5-4 and served out the match, converting her second MP to record her first victory in Melbourne since defeating Serena Williams two years ago to claim her maiden slam crown.

With her streak at ten match wins in a row, next up for Kerber is Croatia's Donna Vekic. Nothing is guaranteed for the German over the next two weeks, but nothing is off the table, either.

So, you know... beware.

...if Monday, when six (mostly big-name) seeds fell, resembled a day "in a hurry" and was ready, willing and able to wreak havoc with the women's draw, Tuesday was content with merely flirting with danger, only to pull itself back from the edge before things reached an official "eve of destruction."

Day 2 immediately proved to be something of a turnaround point for the Bannerettes one day after the U.S. women went 1-9 and saw three-fourths of last year's U.S. Open semifinalists sent packing. Today, lucky loser Bernarda Pera (in for an injured Margarita Gasparyan) was the first player to advance to the 2nd Round, defeating Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2/6-2. Pera jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and never looked back. She's the first LL to post a 1st Round win in Melbourne since Irina Falconi in 2014. It's been twenty one years since such a run was extended another round Down Under (Sandra Kleinova in 1997), but Ons Jabeur *did* do just that last year in Paris after getting her own second chance opportunity in the Roland Garros MD.

Pera will next face Johanna Konta, who destroyed Pera's countrywoman Madison Brengle, winning 6-3/6-1 and firing off thirty-seven winners in the match's sixteen games.

While Pera's day-starting win alleviated a bit of the remaining pressure created by the series of Bannerette failures yesterday, the results of the rest of the day for the U.S. women were decidedly spotty. Madison Keys managed to avoid the U.S. Open semifinalist curse imposed at this AO by becoming the only of the four Bannerettes who reached the SF at Flushing Meadows last summer to advance to the 2nd Round at this slam, but she had to battle back from a 5-2 2nd set deficit in order to take out Wang Qiang in straight sets.

But that was where the good news ended.

Varvara Lepchenko looked as if she might upset Anastasija Sevastova, but the Latvian pushed the match to a 3rd set and won it. Shelby Rogers, too, had a big win within her grasp. She pushed '17 AO semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to 3rd set, but couldn't get past the 35-year old Croat. Other Bannerettes who fell on Day 2 included Christina McHale and Kristie Ahn.

With the U.S. women standing at a combined 3-14, only Lauren Davis (vs. Jana Cepelova) has yet to complete her 1st Round match in an attempt to join Keys, Pera and Nicole Gibbs in the 2nd Round.

...after a bit of a shaky start, Caroline Garcia got her AO off to a winning start. Carina Witthoeft served for the 1st set at 5-4 against the Frenchwoman, but after getting the break Garcia ran off a string of six additional games to take a 7-5/4-0 lead before ultimately taking the 2nd set 6-3. The Pastry has reached at least the 3rd Round at the last five majors, as well as in two of her last three trips to Melbourne.

While her name was on the tip of everyone's tongue at the start of multiple slams in '17 following her 2016 U.S. Open final appearance, the buzz around Karolina Pliskova is not quite as loud as this AO begins even after she put up her most consistent slam season a year ago (w/ a SF and two QF). Not that the twin is one to show any outward signs of not withstanding pressure, but being a bit on the down-low when it comes to people discussing her title hopes is still probably a checkmark in the Czech's column for this opening major of '18. One of six women with a chance to finish this slam in the #1 ranking, Pliskova began her own personal quest by defeating Veronica Cepede Royg 6-4/6-3.

Pliskova was one of a slew of Czechs who advanced to the 2nd Round today after winning in their first-up matches at the start of the day. The group of Maidens included Lucie Safarova (in her first outing since failing to convert that MP vs. Angelique Kerber in the 1st Round in Sydney), Barbora Strycova and Marketa Vondrousova.

...while Kerber made her winning return to Melbourne today, Maria Sharapova was back for the first time in two years, contesting a match on MCA in her first AO outing since her failed drug test following her QF loss to Serena Williams in 2016. A few days after reawakening the ire of the I-don't-care-if-she-served-out-her-punishment-I'll-never-let-it-go-until-my-dying-day crowd by being included in the draw ceremony with Roger Federer-er-er-er-er -- granted, it was an odd choice by the organizers, but there would honestly be few who'd even come close to being the star-power equal of RF, so deal with it -- the Russian got about to getting things done between the lines in a match-up with Tatjana Maria (yeah, so the scoreboard read "Sharapova vs. Maria"... a nice chuckle courtesy of the Tennis Gods, who may or may not have been trying to deliver some sort of subconscious message in the odd occurrence -- they've refused to answer any of the questions sent their way from Backspin HQ).

After winning the opening set 6-1, Sharapova's error count begin to climb in the 2nd as Maria settled into the big stage surroundings. The German led 3-1 before Sharapova tightened things up and finished off the win.

...while Sloane Stephens couldn't stop her losing streak on Day 1, Genie Bouchard *did* manage to end her own skid, and may have just gotten a big gift from the Tennis Gods, as well. More on that in a moment.

It was four years ago that Bouchard had her breakout slam in Melbourne, reaching the AO semifinals in a season in which she'd reach another slam semi and the Wimbledon final, then climb as high as #5 in the rankings. The Canadian came into this slam ranked outside the Top 100, and might need to post a few impressive results to avoid having her position as the top-ranked player in her nation challenged by one or more younger countrywomen later this spring or summer. On a six-match losing streak (not including her 0-3 mark in the Hopman Cup), and with a 3-13 mark beginning with her Madrid QF loss last spring after having won matches over Sharapova and Kerber earlier in the week, Bouchard took the 1st set from Oceane Dodin today, then avoided what might have become a sticky 3rd set by taking out the Pastry in the 2nd set TB to win 6-3/7-6(5). Bouchard hit twelve aces in the match and held a 29/24 edge in W/UE.

So, what is the gift Bouchard might have received? Well, frankly, that her next opponent is Simona Halep. Not because of any deficiencies in the #1-ranked player in the world, as the Romanian put on a gritty performance today against 17-year old Aussie wild card Destanee Aiava, but because one has to wonder if an ankle injury she suffered during the match might turn out to be as significant as was initially feared despite the fact that she literally got up off the court and finished off her opponent in straight sets this afternoon in Melbourne.

Make no mistake, Halep should be proud of what she did today. Against a great deal of adversity, she never lost her head, heart or guile on the Laver Arena court. She faced down a huge-hitting opponent who got on top of her and grabbed a big 1st set lead, found her way after a long injury break from the teenager, saving a handful of set points and ultimately stealing the opening stanza, then pulling out the match after badly rolling her ankle and seeming to be on the verge of possibly abandoning the match as the intense pain she was in was plainly visible on her face.

Having dropped her last two 1st Round matches in Melbourne, Halep already had a major mental hurdle to clear before today's match had even started. Though she's been sporting a lightness of spirit and a high level of confidence after sweeping the titles in Shenzhen in Week 1, Halep needed to prove (mostly to herself, maybe) that she wasn't snakebit at this event, especially not in her first slam as the world #1.

The powerful Aiava didn't make things easy, and she looked like a possible upset-maker in the 1st set. She broke for 3-1 and 4-2 leads, and managed to save a handful of BP to hold in a 15-minute game for 5-2. But it was then that she called for a trainer, and eventually was led off the court for ten minutes. When play resumed, Halep served to stay in the set, and had to save two SP before holding for 5-3. A bit lost in the moment (maybe it was the long break, maybe it was the occasion), Aiava lost track of the match score after that game and thought it was time for a changeover break. Wandering around the court for the next few games with an expression that surely didn't look as if it belonged to a player *leading* the match, Aiava's errors increased. Halep held on, and put in a series of big first serves to get back on serve at 5-5, then managed to edge out the Aussie to win a 7-5 TB and steal away with a 1st set win.

Early in the 2nd, though, one point after pulling up and hitting the back of her thigh, Halep stretched for a ball behind the baseline and turned her left ankle. She went down quickly and clutched at her leg. It looked bad, and the video of the incident backed up the feeling.

Halep was taped up and continued to play, though. While favoring the ankle, she was able to run and move around the court. She took a 3-0 lead, kept Aiava at bay and put the match away 7-6(5)/6-1 to notch her first AO win since 2015. Afterward, she admitted to being in the dark about how bad her injury might be, noting that it was still warm and she didn't yet feel it. Even a good diagnosis is going to include a lot of work to get her ready for a 2nd Round match with Bouchard, and beyond. One wants to believe she'll find a way to keep going, but then you see that video and just how far over her ankle was rolled and it makes one wonder if further examination might reveal an injury extensive enough to prematurely end her AO.

(Fingers crossed.)

...as the start of the night session neared, Day 2 had yet to see a women's seed ejected from the draw despite quite a few close calls. It looked as if that was all going to change as Petra Kvitova's return to Melbourne seemed set to end the way so many had in the past, with a devastating defeat. Then, fortunes changed and Kvitova looked to be ready to stage a successful Houdini act... until she couldn't quite escape her fate.

Andrea Petkovic won the 1st set, only to see the Czech go up 5-4 in the 2nd and push things into a 3rd. The German led 4-0 there, and held three MP (two in a row), only to see Kvitova find a way out of the deep hole. She battled back and eventually found herself serving for the match at 6-5, but fell behind 15/40 and then double-faulted two points later as the score was knotted at 6-6. Three games later, Kvitova got the break to get a second chance to serve out the match at 8-7, only to fail to do so and drop serve yet again. Finally, Petko did the honor, breaking Kvitova to get the win that she nearly let slip away, 6-3/4-6/10-8, as the Czech DF'd on the German's final MP.

While it's sad to see Petra sent away so early, it's nice to see such an effort from Petkovic. This has to be one of her biggest wins in quite some time.

...still to come on Tuesday as of the posting of this update: Kristina Mladenovic (with 14 straight losses, she'll face Ana Bogdan) will see if she'll join the Stephens or Bouchard camp when it comes to trying to end a long losing streak, Aga Radwanska will try to get past a Pliskova (Krystina), Garbine Muguruza's true condition (after a retirement and walkover in the first two weeks of '18) may finally be revealed under the lights on MCA, and one night after the successful first episode of "The Dasha Show" proved to be a predictable one, another "Barty Party" will break out on Laver as Aussie Ash goes up against Aryna Sabalenka in what could be an excitable night-ending face-off.

...LIKE ON DAY 2: When you win on Day 1...

...and, finally... a flashback to Jelena Dokic's heartwarming AO quarterfinal run of 2009:

2012 GBR (0-4 1st Rd.; all on Day 1)
2013 AUS (1-6 in 1st Rd., 1-7 overall)
2014 ITA (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st)
2015 CHN (year after Li champ, 1-5 in 1st Round)
2016 AUS (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd is a Brit)
2017 ROU (2-4 1st Loss, 1st Seed Out, 3 Top 32 defeats)
2018 USA (lost first 8 matches, 1-9 on Day 1; 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open SF ousted)

2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2009 Venus Williams, USA (2nd Rd.)
2010 Maria Sharapova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (2nd Rd.)
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st Rd.)
2013 Samantha Stosur, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE (1st Rd.)
2015 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2016 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2017 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2018 Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (1st Rd. - all '17 U.S. Open SF)

2006 US: Nicole Pratt, AUS (2nd)
2006 RG: Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (2nd)
2007 WI: Alize Cornet, FRA (2nd)
2008 US: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 RG: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 WI: Kristina Kucova, SVK (2nd)
2010 RG: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (2nd)
2011 WI: Stephanie Dubois, CAN (2nd)
2012 RG: Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ (2nd)
2013 US: Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, AUT (2nd)
2014 AO: Irina Falconi, USA (2nd)
2015 US: Daria Kasatkina, RUS (3rd)
2016 WI: Duan Yingying, CHN (2nd)
2017 RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN (3rd)
2018 AO: Bernarda Pera, USA [into 2nd Rd.]
Most Recent AO 3rd Rd.: Sandra Kleinova, CZE (1997)

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: USA (women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches, go 1-9 on Day 1, 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open all-Bannerette semifinalists ousted)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Allertova, Kostyuk, Kumkhum (LL: Pera)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Rogowska
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Gavrilova, Rogowska
IT (TBD): xx
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Sh.Zhang (1r - Stephens served for match at 5-4 in 2nd set); Puig (1r - Stosur MP in 2nd set); Halep (1r - down 5-2 and 2 SP in 1st set vs. Aiava, turns ankle in 2nd set); Petkovic (1r - Kvitova twice served for match; won 10-8 in 3rd)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Monday, January 15, 2018

AO.1 - Four Months, Eight Losses and Future Shock

While she might have suffered a bout with Triskaidekaphobia as the #13 seed at this Australian Open, for Sloane Stephens, Day 1 instead turned out to revolve around an unlucky "crazy eighth." As in an eighth straight loss that has served to put her slam run from last summer firmly in her past as she must now deal with the troubling slump that has enveloped her ever since she experienced her greatest career moment.

Arriving as she did in Melbourne with more reverse-momentum than any player not named Mladenovic (or maybe Bouchard), that Stephens' time in this Australian Open's singles draw was brief is hardly a surprise. The reigning U.S. Open champ has been hampered by a lingering knee injury since the fall, and the resulting lack of practice time and match play has put any momentum she might have gained from her New York run under wraps. Looking to end '17 with another highlight, she instead displayed a stark lack of confidence between the lines in the Fed Cup final, as the U.S. squad (no matter how hard Captain Kathy Rinaldi tried to re-light Stephens' inner fire) was forced to win in spite of her near championship-killing face plant in Minsk. When Zhang Shuai's name was pulled as Sloane's 1st Round opponent in the first major of 2018, well, her ultimate fate Down Under seemed to have already been written in the stars.

Still, even while riding a seven match losing streak since defeating Madison Keys in the Open final, Stephens began her first post-Future Sloane slam looking like she'd finally turned a corner. She took the opening set 6-2, then overcame a break disadvantage (down 3-0) in the 2nd to serve for the match at 5-4. But once Zhang got the break, everything changed. The '16 AO quarterfinalist pushed things to a tie-break, won it 7-2, then jumped on her discouraged opponent early in the 3rd. She won the first seven points, and eight of nine to take a 2-0 lead, then coasted to a 2-6/7-6(2)/6-2 win, dropping Stephens to 0-8 since picking up that eye-popping big check last September

Stephens won't feel the sting of her current form in the rankings for quite some time, as she has zero points to defend until the North American hard court summer. Maybe her time away due to foot surgery last year, which stoked her desire and focus once she returned to the court, will once again act as an instigator that leads to Sloane getting her proverbial ducks in a row once again sometime this spring or summer. She needn't panic, nor put too much pressure on herself to right her course too quickly. She has time to get fully healthy, and totally fit -- physically and mentally -- once again. Her game form, confidence and results will likely following suit soon afterward.

Right this moment, though... while it took place place just four months ago, the memory of what happened in New York has already started to fade away. If The Future was then, then what is *this*?

...from its very first moments, Day 1 looked to be in a hurry. And it didn't take long before this slam's first big-name victims were sent packing long before many had anticipated entertaining the thought of leaving Melbourne behind.

With ten women's matches kicking off at 11 a.m. in Melbourne, Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova was the quickest out of the blocks, taking a love 1st set from Taylor Townsend faster than a grand slam website and app could crash within minutes of the start of play... well, check that, *nothing* could quite top the light speed with which this AO's woeful new versions of both fell victim to catastrophic failure precisely when everyone had just started to pay attention to their shortcomings.

But the Slovak wasn't the first to shake hands in victory on this Monday. No, that turned out to be China's Duan Yingying. As things got a bit sticky in the 2nd set for Rybarikova (though she led Townsend 6-0/4-3, she only had a three-point advantage in the match), Duan raced to a 6-0/4-0 lead against Mariana Duque-Marino and closed out the Colombian 6-0/6-1 to become the first player to advance to the 2nd Round.

RG champ Alona Ostapenko, too, was a young woman in a hurry. She jumped out with a 6-1 1st set win over 37-year old Francesca Schiavone (playing with an uncomfortable-looking back brace), fell behind 3-1 in the 2nd, then handed the Italian vet her seventeenth career AO MD defeat (her first came in her debut in 2001, the year before the youngest player in the women's draw -- 15-year old Marta Kostyuk -- was born) by taking the final five games, serving out a 6-1/6-4 victory.

Other early-in-the-day results included Alize Cornet, playing in her 45th straight slam MD (behind only Aga Radwanska's tour-leading streak of 47), defeating 16-year old wild card Wang Xinyu, the youngest Chinese player to ever appear in a slam draw, 6-4/6-2; while Julia Goerges tucked away her fifteenth straight win dating back to last season with a 6-4/6-4 win over Bannerette teen Sonya Kenin.

Kenin's loss, following on the heels of that of countrywoman Townsend, set the early tone for what turned out to be an horrendous day for Bannerette tennis, which had found itself flying high in the closing months of 2017 with a foursome of semifinalists at last year's U.S. Open hailing from the home country, and soon after Team USA lifting the Fed Cup championship trophy for the first time in seventeen years.

By the end of the day, three of those four semifinalists had been dumped out of this AO within hours of its start. And that wasn't even the half of it.

The much-anticipated 1st Round match-up (or second week star-robbing encounter, depending on how you look at it) between Venus Williams, an AO finalist a year ago, and burgeoning comeback star Belinda Bencic didn't turn out to be a classic ala the Sharapova/Halep tilt last summer at Flushing Meadows (expect more of this sort of thing when the seeds are shrunk from 32 to 16). Instead, it showed that Bencic's late 2017 run of dominance and early '18 winner's touch (she won both the Hopman Cup and Kooyong exhibition titles) were likely a sign of greater things to come.

A year after facing (and losing to) Serena in the 1st Round last year's AO, Bencic controlled the course of action this year against Venus. After taking a break lead at 4-3 in the 1st, then saving five BP before a rain delay (at deuce) in order to close the Laver Arena roof, the 20-year old Swiss burst out of the interruption without a hint of rust. Reeling off four straight points, Bencic held for 5-3 and soon secured the 1st set. Throughout a tight 2nd set, she was opportunistic and light on her feet, and kept a step ahead of her 37-year old opponent, notching her first career win in five attempts vs. Williams, 6-3/7-5. Bencic had lost all eight previous sets she'd played against Venus.

Her injury-related absence for much of last season allowed Bencic to play very late into the calendar year, beyond the official end of the WTA season, as she put together a 28-3 overall record on all levels in the closing months, including a 15-0 run to end the year. In an early season stretch that has seen so many top players put up spotty results and/or have questionable conditioning/health, perhaps Bencic's momentum-gathering stretch of action since last fall has allowed her to find her '18 groove far quicker than most. This win gives her six wins in seven matches this January, though the first six took place in "unofficial" events.

Of note: Bencic's single loss, a straight sets defeat at the hands of undefeated-in-2018 Angelique Kerber in Perth, surely continues to make the German look even better than she already has in the opening weeks of the new season, doesn't it?.

Oh, but the U.S. woes were just getting started...

Last year's AO semifinalist, CoCo Vandeweghe, went out quicker and in more frustrating fashion than even her fellow U.S. Open semifinalists Venus and Sloane. Back in Melbourne with Pat Cash in her coaching corner, Vandeweghe won't even get an opportunity operate in the Melbourne draft of the Aussie great. After taking an early lead against the talented but unpredictable Timea Babos, CoCo saw the Hungarian better handle the rain delay and the closing of the Hisense Arena roof. Babos seized control of the 1st set TB, winning it 7-4, then blew out Vandeweghe in the 2nd for a 7-6(4)/6-1 win. Somewhat surprisingly for a player of her talent, it's just Babos' second career Top 10 win, and her first in almost four years (Halep in Fed Cup play in '14).

While all three seeded U.S. stars faced unusually tough 1st Round opponents, and apparently Vandeweghe was experiencing some sort of flu-like symptoms, such a bombed-out result in the first slam after what happened last summer in New York is quite a wicked turn of events, no matter how short-lived the downturn turns out to be.

But, while the tailspin is currently taking place, ummm, why not speed it up a bit more?

CiCi Bellis claimed the opening set against Kiki Bertens, but lost in three. Alison Riske did the same vs. Kirsten Flipkens. With the U.S. with a shocking 0-7 combined record, Jennifer Brady (who reached the Round of 16 a year ago) raced to a 5-0 1st set lead vs. Magda Linette and seemed set to flip U.S. fortunes, only to eventually add her name to the list of Bannerettes to squander leads and fall in three, going out 2-6/6-4/6-3 to the Pole.

With the U.S. woman standing at an astounding 0-8, it could get even worse in the bottom half of the draw. Nicole Gibbs will at least be favored vs. lucky loser Viktorya Tomova, but Irina Falconi has been given the opportunity to serve in the role of guest on this AO's first edition of "The Dasha Show" in the night session-closing match on Laver vs. Miss Gavrilova.

Poors Souls, indeed. (And here's where you make your own "Who's-the-s***hole-country-now?" joke, I guess, too.)

Leave it to Venus to tell it like it is, of course.

Oh, and by the way, Madison Keys... watch your back tomorrow.

...but you didn't have to be a Bannerette to be a seeded player sent packing on this openg day of 2018 slam play. Ekaterina Makarova fell in an 8-6 3rd set to Irina-Camelia Begu, while Dominika Cibulkova was ejected more forcefully by Kaia Kanepi, 6-2/6-2.

Meanwhile, Anett Kontaveit might have had some trouble on her hands had Aleksandra Krunic been able to push the Estonian to a 3rd set. Kontaveit led by a set and a break, served at 5-2 in the 2nd and held a MP before The Bracelet briefly turned the tables on her and knotted the score at 5-5. But Kontaveit rebounded to record her first career AO MD win, 6-4/7-5. Anastasia Palvyuchenkova, a year after the Russian completed her Career QF Slam with a final eight run in Melbourne, looked like she was going to do what she does so often. Come on, you know... She trailed Kateryna Kozlova 3-1 in the 3rd but, wouldn't you know it, she *didn't* put forth a massively disappointing result on the heels of something good. I know... now *that's* a true stunner. Instead, she reeled off five straight games to win 3-6/6-4/6-3. Go figure.

...for all the world to see, it appeared as if Sam Stosur was going to head off at the 3rd set pass any of the home soil demons that have hounded her for nearly her entire career. She led Monica Puig by a set and held a MP in a 2nd set TB. But the Puerto Rican Gold Medalist saved it and pushed things to a 3rd and, well, the match took place in Melbourne. So...

Sam's now lost four matches in a row in Melbourne.

...a year ago, Marta Kostyuk won the AO girls singles title on the final weekend of play. This year, she's way ahead of the game. After making her way through qualifying to become the first player born in 2002 to reach a slam MD, the 15-year posted a 1st Round upset of veteran Peng Shuai today to become the first from her birth year to also get a victory, winning 6-2/6-2.

After making it through qualifying this weekend, Kostyuk found her mom and got a hug and a kiss.

I guess the stakes have now officially been raised.

...well, looks like it's time to wrap up the Day 1 post. Remember, though, there are *still* matches left to be finished, started and completed, including Anna Karolina Schiedlova's long-awaited return to slam MD action vs. Dasha Kasatkina, as well as the slam MD debut of Backspin's 2017 "Player Whose Name You'll Know..." designee Jana Fett (vs. Misa Eguchi) *and* the AO debut of '18 pick, Viktoria Kuzmova (vs. two-time Hobart champ Elise Mertens). Elina Svitolina also takes the court for the first time in the season's first major.

In the night session on MCA, Auckland finalist Caroline Wozniacki will meet Hobart finalist Mihaela Buzarnescu, as the Romanian gets another chance at the Dane, who knocked her out of the U.S. Open 1st Round last fall in the Swarmette's slam MD debut. And, as noted earlier, Gavrilova will try to "Rock The Rod" for a third straight AO when she meets Falconi in the session-ending match on Laver.


Or, as the Trump White House would say... "Everything worked perfectly. We've been getting compliments on it, actually. The general conclusion is that it's the best debut of a new slam website and app ever."


..."UGH" ON DAY 1: after working to get back on the court after three knee surgeries...


...LIKE ON DAY 1: Petra looking all Golden Age of Hollywood-y and all...

...and, finally... it's time for the bush birds to call once again...


A post shared by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2005 #16 Ai Sugiyama, JPN (lost to Sucha)
2006 #9 Elena Dementieva, RUS (lost to Schruff)
2007 #25 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (lost to Vesnina)
2008 #32 Julia Vakulenko, UKR (lost to Vesnina)
2009 #23 Agnes Szavay, HUN (lost to Voskoboeva)
2010 #14 Maria Sharapova, RUS (lost to Kirilenko)
2011 #28 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (lost to Kulikova)
2012 #19 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Bratchikova)
2013 #32 Mona Barthel, GER (lost to Pervak)
2014 #7 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Goerges)
2015 #32 Belinda Bencic, SUI (lost to Goerges)
2016 #17 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Gasparyan)
2017 #4 Simona Halep, ROU (lost to Rogers)
2018 #13 Sloane Stephens, USA (lost to Sh.Zhang)

2009 Patricia Mayr, AUS (def. Schruff)
2010 Dinara Safina, RUS (def. Rybarikova)
2011 Evgeniya Rodina, RUS (def. Rogowska)
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (def. Watson)
2013 Maria Sharapova, RUS (def. Puchkova)
2014 Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (def. Robson)
2015 Julia Goerges, GER (def. Bencic)
2016 Petra Kvitova, CZE (def. Kumkhum)
2017 Monica Puig, PUR (def. Tig)
2018 Duan Yingying, CHN (def. Duque Marino)

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Nominee: U.S. women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches on Day 1
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Allertova, Kostyuk, Kumkhum
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Day 1 wins: Rogowska
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Day 1 wins: Rogowska
IT (TBD): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominees: Bannerette '17 U.S. Open Semifinalists (Stephens, Vandeweghe & Venus ousted on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Sh.Zhang (1r - Stephens served for match at 5-4 in 2nd set); Puig (1r - Stosur MP in 2nd set)

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wk.2- The Great Chick Returns

In Sydney, Angelique Kerber delivered a kiss to build a [fill in the blank] on. On this day, it means she's a singles champion for the first time in sixteen months. But, in short order, we may come to find out that her return to form means a great deal more than just that.

One thing we *do* know... Angie's a "great chick. (Just ask Ash.)

Now, on to Melbourne.

SYDNEY, AUS (Premier/Hard Outdoor)
S: Angelique Kerber/GER def. Ash Barty/AUS 6-4/6-4
D: Gaby Dabrowski/Xu Yifan (CAN/CHN) d. Latisha Chan/Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova (CHN/CZE) 6-3/6-1
HOBART, AUS (Int'l/Hard Outdoor)
S: Elise Mertens/BEL def. Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU 6-1/4-6/6-3
D: Elise Mertens/Demi Schuurs (BEL/NED) d. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Makota Ninomiya (UKR/JPN) 6-2/6-2
KOOYONG EXHIBITION (Melbourne; Hard Outdoor)
F: Belinda Bencic/SUI def. Andrea Petkovic/GER 3-6/6-4 [10-4]

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Angelique Kerber/GER
...after a year of penance apparently ordered by the Tennis Gods, might the "Kerbernator" really be back?

Kerber's undefeated opening week in Perth was an early sign that maybe the German had turned the corner on her forgettable 2017 season, a campaign which saw her consistently fail to ignite, win zero titles and drop out of the Top 20 twelve months after the greatest year of her professional life. But what the two-time slam-winning, former #1 did in Sydney could very well be the first inkling of an impending re-write of whatever scenario anyone saw taking place in Melbourne. As was the case with her career-transforming Australian Open title run in '16, Kerber's appearance in Sydney was almost over before it'd hardly even begun. With the ghost of Misaki Doi (more on her later) surely floating by, Kerber came back from a set down in the 1st Round vs. Lucie Safarova, saving two MP, to set up a 2nd Round meeting with Venus Williams. In that one, again, the German rallied from a set down to win, giving her a 2-0 mark on the season -- after just two official '18 matches -- after dropping the 1st set. She'd gone 3-22 in such situations over the course of the '17 season. Before the Safarova win, Kerber has dropped eight straight matches after losing the opening set, and hadn't won such a match since defeating Shelby Rogers at Wimbledon last summer. Once she'd won her back-to-back matches in Sydney, though, Kerber never had to face another one-set deficit all week. She won her final three matches in straight sets, allowing little to the likes of Dominika Cibulkova (4 games), Camila Giorgi (5) and Ash Barty (8), defeating the Aussie to claim her eleventh career title in her 27th final appearance. It's her first crown since defeating Karolina Pliskova in the '16 U.S. Open final.

Now 5-0 in official matches, and 9-0 overall, in 2018, Kerber finds herself back at #16 in the rankings and legitimately having to think about whether or not lightning can indeed strike twice.

Those TG's... you can't live with 'em, but you wouldn't want to live without 'em.
RISERS: Dasha Gavrilova/AUS and Lesia Tsurenko/UKR
...spurred on by a home crowd around every corner, Dasha has burst out of the season's gates in recent years. Two years ago, she won the Hopman Cup with Nick Kyrgios and then put on a Round of 16 run in Melbourne. While she didn't repeat in Perth a season ago, she did get a singles win there over CoCo Vandeweghe (who go on to reach the AO semis) and then matched her 4th Round result in Melbourne. After a slow start at *this* year's HC (w/ losses to Kerber and Mertens, which actually looks quite nice a week later), Gavrilova rebounded well to stage a semifinal run in Sydney with wins over fellow Aussies Olivia Rogowska and Sam Stosur, then reached the final four due to a walkover from Garbine Muguruza. After taking the first set from countrywoman Ash Barty, Gavrilova fell in three. But the stage is now set for still more late night AO action, as the first outing of "The Dasha Show" has been give a primetime slot as the session-closing match on the Laver Arena schedule for Night 1.

A season ago, Tsurenko reached a career high (#29) and won her third career title in Acapulco. The tour's second-highest ranked Ukrainian opened her season in Brisbane with a 1st Round win over Ash Barty, and the 28-year old followed up in Hobart with wins over Timea Babos, Yulia Putintseva and Aryna Sabalenko to achieve her first semifinal result since reaching the final four on the grass at Rosmalen last summer.


SURPRISE: Camila Giorgi/ITA
...no, Giorgi finding success isn't really a "surprise," but the 26-year old Italian has hardly been consistent when it's come to that in recent seasons. After back-to-back Top 35 campaigns, she's finished at #83 and #79 the last two years, and failed to reach a singles final a season ago for the first time since reaching her first in 2014. Ranked at #100 heading into the week, Giorgi had to qualify just to reach the MD in Sydney. Once she did, she truly caught fire, knocking off both Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska (did you realize that neither was ranked in even the Top 25 this past week?) to reach her first semifinal since Week 1 of 2017 in Shenzhen. Her run was finally stopped by eventual champ Angelique Kerber, but she jumps twenty-nine spots in the rankings to #71 on Monday and will participate in her twenty-third consecutive slam MD. She's lost in the 1st Round of five of the last six majors.
VETERAN: Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU
...back from several injury-related absences, the 29-year old Swarmette (one of the 2008 Originals along with the likes of a young Halep, Cirstea, Dulgheru, Niculescu, Olaru, etc.), is now fully hitting stride. After making tour-level and slam debut appearances, getting her first Top 50 win and climbing into the Top 100 (ending at #72) for the first time in 2017, the Romanian ended her season on a combined 19-4 (all level) rush that began with reaching the SF in Linz in just her second career WTA main draw. After starting her '18 season by falling in quick fashion to Maria Sharapova in Week 1, Buzarnescu hopped over to Hobart and put together another career-best run. Wins over Alize Cornet, Anna-Lena Friedsam, Alison Riske (in straights after saving five SP in the 1st) and Lesia Tsurenko put her into her maiden WTA singles final. In a rain-marred contest, she lost in three sets to defending champ Elise Mertens, but one year after beginning the season ranked outside the Top 500 she'll be at #44 as the Australian Open begins. She'll play #2 Caroline Wozniacki under the MCA lights on Night 1, five months after losing to the Dane in her WTA/slam debut in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open last summer.

COMEBACK: Belinda Bencic/SUI
...fully back from her injury layoff, Bencic has still yet to play an official match since the calendar flipped over to 2018. She last played a match in a tour-level WTA event back in October (a QF run in Linz that was ended in a 3rd set TB by Mihaela Buzarnescu) and put together her 2017-ending 15-match winning streak in WTA 125 and challenger tournaments. In Week 1, she won the Hopman Cup title with Roger what's-his-name despite losing her singles match in the final to Angelique Kerber. In Week 2, the 20-year old Swiss was once again crowned a champion (that makes five straight events that's happened, by the way), albeit in yet another exhibition, winning the women's side of the action in Kooyong by wrapping things up with a 3-6/6-4 [10-4] victory in the final over Andrea Petkovic. Although, to be fair, Petko won the dance-off.

Things will get much more serious in Melbourne for Bencic, as she'll find Venus Williams on the other side of the net in the 1st Round.

FRESH FACES: Elise Mertens/BEL and Ash Barty/AUS
...a year ago, a #127-ranked Mertens was playing the qualifying rounds in Hobart. She made her way into the main draw, then upset Kristina Mladenovic and was faced with the decision of playing out the tournament or "finding a way out" of her 2nd Round match vs. "lucky loser" Sachia Vickery so that she could head to Melbourne for AO qualifying. Vickery found herself in the same dilemma, though, and after both called for trainers just one game into their match it was the Bannerette who was the snooze-or-you-lose winner of the odd face-off, beating Mertens to the awkward, oddly comical retirement "finish line." Vickery went on to lose in AO qualifying, while Mertens had to miss out on the season's first slam, but *did* win her maiden tour singles title over the weekend. A year later, the Waffle was back in Hobart, secure in her AO MD position as the world #36 (and with the tour having instituted a new Mertens/Vickery-inspired rule that prevents AO qualifiers from entering other WTA events in Week 2). Mertens battled her way back into the final after posting wins over Kurumi Nara, Beatriz Haddad Maia and former Hobart champ Heather Watson. In a match that had to play out around rainfall, Mertens defended her title with a 6-1/4-6/6-3 win over Mihaela Buzarnescu, becoming the first two-time singles champ in the tournament's 25-year history... and she picked up a doubles title with Demi Schuurs while she was at it, too. The 22-year old Belgian will finally make her AO debut this coming week.

And now got a special relationship with Hobart... so it's all worked out pretty well.

In Sydney, after a quick Week 1 exit, Barty rediscovered the Down Under form that made her a first "Barty Party" week star at last year's AO, and which she'll need right out of the gate this coming week after drawing Aryna Sabalenka in the 1st Round. Barty's time in Sydney was highlighted by a three-set come from behind win in an all-Aussie semi over Dasha Gavrilova. Though she lost 6-4/6-4 to Angelique Kerber in her fourth career tour singles final, her week's work was enough to lift her to a new career high of #17.

I don't think her success is enough to make me re-think by opposition to that vile Vegemite, though... it'll have to remain a (mostly) Aussie thing.

DOWN: Sloane Stephens/USA and Misaki Doi/JPN
...currently, Stephens continues to try to rediscover the Future Sloane version of herself that won the U.S. Open last summer. She's yet to win a match since her seven-match run in New York, dropping her seventh consecutive match last weekend in Sydney with a straight sets defeat at the hands of Week 2 giant killer Camila Giorgi. It's the third time in the streak in which Stephens failed to win a game in a set and -- perhaps, if you're looking for an omen for what's coming next, be it good or bad -- her loss to Giorgi came via the same 6-3/6-0 scoreline by which she earned her last win over Madison Keys in the final at Flushing Meadows. Nursing lingering injury and, one would think, confidence questions nibbling around the edges of her game, Stephens will face veteran Zhang Shuai in the opening round in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Doi has to wish *she* could be back to her recent past and pick up things from there once again, as well. Remember, it was just two years ago that Doi went to Melbourne and found herself holding a match point against Angelique Kerber in the 1st Round. She failed to convert it, then saw the German escape with the victory, go on to win the Australian Open and establish the foundation for a career year. Doi climbed as high as #30 during the '16 season, and was still ranked in the Top 60 as recently as last summer. She posted her only career Top 10 win in Madrid over Keys, and reached the QF in Nurnberg. It's been all downhill from there. She's gone 3-11 since, and that's not even counting her loss (as the #1 seed) to 16-year old Wang Xinyu in the semis of the Asia/Pacific AO Wild Card Playoff tournament in December. In Week 1, Doi fell in the second round of qualifying in Brisbane, then was "upset" 3 & 1 by Dayana Yastremska in the opening round of qualifying for the Australian Open, dropping her to 3-8 in slam matches since since she failed to put away her MP vs. Kerber. All three of those wins came at Roland Garros in '16, when she knocked off Karolina Pliskova and reached the Round of 16, only to lose to, yep, Kerber once again.

Doi will be ranked #126 this week. She be absent from the MD of a major for the first time since the '15 AO (and for only the second time in any major between 2013-18)... while Kerber heads to Melbourne with her ranking back in the Top 20, a singles title under her arm and a renewed head of steam.

Sometimes, when tennis ships pass in the night, they might never cross paths again.
JUNIOR STAR: Jaimee Fourlis/AUS
...the 18-year old Australian, who'll be in the AO main draw by way of her win in the final of Tennis Australia's December junior wild card playoff event, picked up her first career WTA MD victory in Hobart with a 7-5/7-6(9) win over Serbia's Nina Stojanovic. A year after notching her maiden slam win in the 1st Round, Fourlis will return to Melbourne seeking her second in a match-up with fellow Aussie WC Olivia Rogowska.


DOUBLES: Demi Schuurs/NED and Gaby Dabrowski/Xu Yifan (CAN/CHN)
...in 2018, for Schuurs, success is all about playing doubles with partners with nearly the same name. In Hobart, the 24-year old Dutch woman became the first two-time title winner of the new year, following up her Week 1 Brisbane victory (w/ Kiki Bertens) with another in Week 2 with Elise Mertens. The duo picked up their second title (w/ Guangzhou last September) by claiming a pair of deciding tie-breaks to reach the final, then winning it 6-2/6-2 over Lyudmyla Kichenok & Makoto Ninomiya. It's Schuurs' fifth overall tour-level doubles crown.

In Sydney, Dabrowski & Xu threw their names into the hat for a potential maiden slam WD title run in Melbourne (where they'll be the #6-seeded team), picking up their third title together since the start of 2017 with a 6-3/6-1 victory in the final over #1-seeded Latisha Chan & Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova. In their three finals together, Dabrowski/Xu have taken out many of the players they might have to climb over to win another title two weeks from now, including Chan/S.-Hlavackova (AO #1's), Mirza/Strycova (the Czech is seeded #4 w/ Lucie Safarova) and Barty/Dellacqua (AO #3).

...the 15-year old 2017 AO Girls champ used her wild card berth in the '18 AO women's qualifying to full advantage. After being the youngest player in the Q-draw, she'll now be the youngest in the MD, as well, after putting together back-to-back-to-back three set victories over #9-seeded Arina Rodionova, Daniela Seguel and #13 Barbora Krejcikova, closing out the Czech with a love 3rd set to emphatically set the stage for her slam debut.


2006 Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2007 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
2008 Julia Schruff, GER
2009 Elena Baltacha, GBR
2010 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2011 Vesna Manasieva, RUS
2012 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2013 Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2014 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2015 Renata Voracova, CZE
2016 Naomi Osaka, JPN
2017 Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
2018 Marta Kostyuk, UKR

Denisa Allertova, CZE (24/#130) - the Czech, who reached the AO 3rd Rd. two years ago, didn't drop a set in qualifying
Anna Blinkova, RUS (19/#138) - a qualifier at her second straight AO, and third straight major, the Hordette won a trio of three-setters to get there
Irina Falconi, USA (27/#131) - the oldest qualifier didn't lose a set in qualifying. She's posted 1st Rd. AO wins the last four years.
Magdalena Frech, POL (20/#163) - she'll make her slam debut after taking out a pair of junior slam winners, Sofya Zhuk ('15 Wimbledon) and Kayla Day ('16 U.S.)
Viktorija Golubic, SUI (25/#115) - she's qualified at two of the last three AO's, but is still winless in the MD at Melbourne
Ivana Jorovic, SRB (20/#279) - after winning all six sets she played this week, the 20-year old Serb makes her slam MD debut
Anna Kalinskaya, RUS (19/#160) - after opening the Q-rounds with a win over veteran countrywoman Vera Zvonareva, the '15 RG Jr. finalist makes her slam MD debut
Marta Kostyuk, UKR (15/#521) - she'll be the first player born in 2002 to play in a slam MD match
Luksika Kumkhum, THA (24/#124) - a familiar face in Melbourne, Kumkhum was a qualifier in '16, got a wild card in '17 and is best remembered for her huge upset of Petra Kvitova in 2014. Still, she's never reached the AO 3rd Rd.
Viktoria Kuzmova, SVK (19/#125) - Backspin's "Player Whose Name You'll Know..." designee for 2018 qualifies for her second straight slam MD without losing a set
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK (23/#137) - (hopefully) finally finding her way out of the woods, AKS will play in her first slam MD since the 2016 U.S. Open. Her last win came in 2015 at Flushing Meadows.
Zhu Lin, CHN (23/#114) - an AO qualifier for a second straight year, she's seeking her first MD win at a major

Viktoriya Tomova, BUL (22/#139) - after losing in the final round of slam qualifying for the fourth time in her career, Tomova gets her maiden MD spot in a major via the "LL" route

Kristie Ahn, USA (25) - Taylor Townsend won the USTA's WC Playoff series, but her ranking was high enough to earn automatic entry into the AO main draw. So the spot went to second place finisher Ahn, who'll compete in her first slam MD since 2008.
Destanee Aiava, AUS (17) - last year, Aiava won Tennis Australia's Junior WC Playoff tournament to earn entry into the MD. This year, she lost in the Jr. final to Jamiee Fourlis, but then turned around and won the regular WC P.O. tournament (def. Tammy Patterson in the final). She'll open vs. #1-seed Simona Halep.
Lizette Cabrera, AUS (20) - after making her slam debut as a WC last year in Melbourne, Cabrera gets another. She reached a tour-level QF in Hong Kong late last season, falling to fellow Aussie Dasha Gavrilova in three sets.
Jamiee Fourlis, AUS (18) - last year, Fourlis lost in TA's Jr. WC P.O. final to Aiava, but then made the MD by winning the regular WC Playoff tournament. This year, she took out Aiava in the Jr. Playoff in a thrilling 7-6/6-7/7-5 final.
Jessika Ponchet, FRA (21) - after her first Top 300 season in '17, the eighth-ranked Pastry was a somewhat surprising internal WC selection by the FFT to make her slam debut, but Ponchet opened her season with a SF run at the $25K challenger in Playford before heading to Melbourne.
Olivia Rogowksa, AUS (26) - she's been given an AO wild card eight times in ten years, but at least she "won" this one by taking Tennis Australia's new USTA-style multi-event challenger playoff at the end of last year
Ajla Tomljanovic, AUS (24) - still not *totally* playing under an Aussie flag on tour (but she *is* allowed to do so in the ITF-run slams), Tomljanovic was given the final Tennis Australia WC into the main draw after Vika Azarenka's continued custody issues led the two-time AO champ to give up the wild card she'd been awarded last month. Still on the way back from '16 shoulder surgery, the Croatian-born Tomljanovic has played just three MD matches in the last seven majors, though she did reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in 2014.
Wang Xinyu, CHN (16) - the 16-year old junior (as a WC) was the surprise winner of the Asia/Pacific Wild Card Playoff tournament in December, knocking off two seeds (including #1 Misaki Doi). She defeated Abigail Tere-Apisah in a three-set final, coming back from a set down (and two points from defeat) to secure her MD debut. Wang is the youngest Chinese player to ever appear in a slam MD, and only '17 AO Girls champ Marta Kostyuk (a qualifier at 15) is younger in this year's entire AO women's event.

1. Sydney 1st Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Lucie Safarova
Surviving two rain stoppages, going a set and a break down, and saving two MP in the tie-break. So *that's* what it was going to take to turn Angie around. Why couldn't the Tennis Gods have just told us that *last* year?
2. Sydney Final - Angelique Kerber def. Ash Barty
Does it take a "great chick" to recognize a "great chick?" Asking for a friend.

3. Sydney SF - Ash Barty def. Dasha Gavrilova
When the "Barty Party" meets "The Dasha Show," all walls crumbled.

4. Hobart Final - Elise Mertens def. Mihaela Buzarnescu
Now, about getting that first slam MD win outside of Paris...

5. Australian Open Q1 - Lesley Kerkhove def. Sachia Vickery
Hot off her semifinal run in Auckland, #1 Q-seed Vickery beat Mertens to another imaginary "finish line" -- she lost in Melbourne this year before the Waffle will.
6. Australian Open Q1 - Bernarda Pera def. Patty Schnyder 6-3/7-6(4)
Australian Open Q1 - Anna Kalinskaya def. Vera Zvonarva 6-2/2-6/6-0
Australian Open Q1 - Anna Blinkova def. Roberta Vinci 6-3/6-2
Patty's last slam MD was at RG in 2011, and Vera's was in 2015 in Melbourne. Meanwhile, since she's set to retire this spring *before* Roland Garros, former slam finalist Vinci's final singles match in a major occurred in almost tree-falling-in-the-woods-with-no-one-around-to-hear-it fashion.

7. Australian Open Q1 - Irina Bara def. Sesil Karatantcheva 7-5/3-6/7-5
Australian Open Q1 - Daniela Seguel def. Jamie Loeb 3-6/7-5/6-3
Bara trailed Sesil 5-2 in the 3rd, and was down 5-4, love/30. Meanwhile, Seguel survived three MP and saw Loeb serve for the match in the 2nd set. Both lost in the next round, but the result was still the best at a major for either woman, as Bara matched her Q2 result at last year's U.S. Open and Seguel reached the second round in a slam qualifying draw for the very first time.
8. Kooyong Exhibition - Genie Bouchard def. Destanee Aiava
A late edition to the field in what turned out to simply be an additional match (Bencic and Petko were already set for the final), Bouchard at least found a way to post *some* sort of singles win for the first time in months. When will the next one come?
HM- Australian Open Q2 - Patricia Hon def. Yanina Wickmayer
The 19-year old Aussie Q-round wild card lost to Irina Falconi in the final round, but only after posting a nice win over the #-5-seeded Belgian.


NOT the official debut of Serena's outfit for Wimbledon. (Hmmm, then again...)

1. Sydney 2nd Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. VENUS WILLIAMS
In her first match in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics (and first appearance in the event since '99), Venus surged back from a break and 5-3 down in the 1st set to grab the lead. But Kerber shut down the proceedings at that point, and never looked back the rest of the week.

2. Sydney 1st Rd. - AGA RADWANSKA def. Johanna Konta
Aga lost to Jo in the final a year ago. Still, her 1 & 2 loss in the QF to Giorgi drops her ranking all the way down to #35 heading into Melbourne.
3. Sydney Final - Gaby Dabrowski/Xu Yifan def. LATISHA CHAN/Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova
Chan *still* hasn't won a tour-level WD title with anyone other than Martina Hingis or her sister Hao-Ching/Angel since 2010.
4. Australian Open Q1 - Marta Kostyuk def. ARINA RODIONOVA
Rodionova got her first career slam MD wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, but won't get a chance to notch her first career MD win in her hometown after losing to the 15-year old '17 AO Girls champ.
5. Australian Open Q1 - CAROLINE DOLEHIDE def. Conny Perrin
Perrin led 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, only to see 19-year old Dolehide save five MP and record her first career slam match win.

HM- Australian Open Q3 - ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA def. Stefanie Voegele
Whoa, Nellie! (Impromptu Keith Jackson tribute.) Welcome back, AKS.

Victoria Picasso

A post shared by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2017 Madrid - Simona Halep, ROU (def. Mladenovic)
2017 Nurnberg - Kiki Bertens, NED (def. Krejcikova)
2017 Tokyo TPP - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (def. Pavlyuchenkova)
2018 HOBART - ELISE BERTENS, BEL (def. Buzarnescu)

9...Serena Williams, USA
4...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3...Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
3...Patty Schnyder, SUI
2...Simona Halep, ROU
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
2...Aga Radwanska, POL
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Venus Williams, USA

**WTA TITLES - 2016-18**
7 - Elina Svitolina, UKR [1/5/1]
5 - Simona Halep, ROU [3/1/1]
5 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE [2/3/0]
4 - Caroline Garcia, FRA [2/2/0]
4 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK [4/0/0]
4 - Sloane Stephens, USA [3/1/0]
4 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN [2/2/0]

**WTA FINALS - 2015-18**
15 - 5/8/1/1 - ANGELIQUE KERBER (8-7)
14 - 5/3/5/1 - Simona Halep (8-6)
14 - 3/2/8/1 - Caroline Wozniacki (5-9)
13 - 6/4/3/0 - Karolina Pliskova (6-7)
11 - 5/5/1/0 - Serena Williams (8-3)
10 - 1/3/5/1 - Elina Svitolina (8-2)

=lost in semifinals=
Auckland - Sachia Vickery, USA (22, #122)
Sydney - CAMILA GIORGI, ITA (26, #100)
Hobart - HEATHER WATSON, GBR (25, #74)

All for now.