Monday, January 26, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

What changed? Things shifted in the second set.
Well, is difficult to say, no? The level was very high, the most high level. So I think the difference was like two points or three points at the end. I really started playing really good. With the time, I was playing worst. At the end I was feeling more tired, and my shots weren't as good as the first set. I just think she also started to play better. Serve was very important for her. So that's it. Only really small difference.
Garbine Muguruza

We often when people come back after they've won the Australian Open we ask them how hard is it to defend it. It's probably just as hard for someone who is the runner up. Do you feel that pressure a bit?
I don't know if--I don't see myself like I have to be in the final. It's never easy. Even the big names, the big players, it's not easy to defend something like this. So I don't think like this. It's a new year. It's a new start. I'm starting the year pretty well again. So this is how I see it.
Dominika Cibulkova
Radwanska plays as if she has blocked out her entire day for the match. Venus plays like she is running late for a bus.
Craig O'Shannessy

Your skirt on your left thigh was folded under for most of the tournament. Was that on purpose or doing that for some reason? Kind of a random question, I know, but...
If I'm going to tell you I was trying to show a little bit of my skin, would that satisfy you? No, it's really just to make sure that the ball doesn't fall out. When it's too flowy sometimes I get my racquet caught in my skirt. So just to be more comfortable.
Victoria Azarenka

Maria Sharapova has not beaten Serena in ten years. If you could give Maria any advice from your experience, what would you tell her?
It's difficult to say. I think Serena has the game to beat also Maria. Obviously has to be mental. When you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head blocking during the match. I think maybe improve more the way she plays to beat her. I think the way she plays is not the way to beat Serena. That's what I saw in the ten years. What can I say?
Garbine Muguruza

Cibulkova and Williams emerge in thrilling quarterfinal matches

Dominika Cibulkova (whom, by the way, I predicted good things for several years ago in Charleston when hardly anyone had heard of her), when she's on, can be a bit scary. She runs down everything and she hits the ball as hard as anyone. When you consider Cibulkova, Halep and Justine Henin before them, you wonder if perhaps the whole "big babe" narrative has been overdone.

Cibulkova has powerful legs and a powerful core. She knew, early on, that she would need them if she were going to succeed in professional tennis. For several years, she had to retire from matches because of hip and back injuries, and you never saw her without a thigh wrap. But she found a team that helped her get past that. Her problems now seem to be more mental, but she's in excellent mental form in Melbourne, just as she was last year when she reached the final.

Cibulkova's task today was to take out two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, and she did so, hitting 44 winners in her 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Azarenka just couldn't stay away from Cibulkova's lethal forehand, and it did her in.

That was a thrilling and exhausting (even for spectators) match, and it was followed by another extravaganza, this one put on by top seed Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza. It was Muguruza who took Williams out of the French Open last year, beating her 6-2, 6-2. And it was Muguruza who beat Williams 6-2 in today's first set. It looked like the French Open all over again, with the Spaniard out-hitting the world number 1 in stunning fashion.

Williams, I should mention, was clearly not well. She actually sounded like I've sounded for the last several weeks, what with all the coughing. The similarity ends there, however. Whereas I've barely been able to slog through my housework and occasionally go to my office for a while, Serena was able to withstand the onslaught and go on for two more ball-pounding sets. She defeated Muguruza 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, but part of her victory must be attributed to the Spaniard's gradual meltdown. By the third set, Muguruza had become an error machine. The young star seems to have only two final-round gears--play a bagel set or fade away.

Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska will play in the night match, but next up are the Madisons. Madison Brengle has won more tour-level matches this year than she she had previously won in her entire career. That is a very interesting fact in itself, but when you add to that the fact that she has advanced to the round of 16 at the Australian Open, it becomes amazing. The part about playing someone named Madison in the round of 16? You could never make this stuff up.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

You may well play Simona Halep next. How would you approach that?
Well, we played once in New Haven I think not the last year, the year before. I lost 6-1, 7-6, something like that. She's one of the greatest player now, and I'm really looking forward. If she wins today, depends, yeah. I will want to go forward and forward step by step.
Ekaterina Makarova

I look really calm, but inside, I'm yelling "What are you doing?" in a couple of languages.
Maria Sharapova

I just want to be perfect on court, but is not possible. The perfect doesn't exist. So I try to keep my mind very focused for every point and to forget about the mistakes. I try to be better day by day, match by match. Maybe that's why I'm a little bit nervous during the matches.
Simona Halep

Do you have a favorite Genie Army song?
Yeah, I got asked this I think after my first or second match. And I said it's the one where they go, Genie is hot, hot, hot. But since they've been singing a newer one, I think maybe only from second or third round on. It's based on Ricky Martin's song "Living La Vida Loca." They changed the words and sing about me. I think that one's pretty cool. They are creative to come up with such a random song and talk about forehands and backhands and stuff. It's pretty funny. So that one is up there.
Genie Bouchard

I don't know how close you still are with her. But did you hear about Maria Kirilenko getting married yesterday?
I did actually. I'm not sure to who. I really don't know. I mean, wonderful actually. Why are people laughing?
People think it's funny we don't know who she married. We know she got married.
What happens in Russia stays in Russia.
Maria Sharapova

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another big upset in Melbourne

I woke up this morning (my only "up all night" project is the final) stunned by the news that Madison Keys had defeated Petra Kvitova in straight sets in the Australian Open third round; I thought Kvitova was headed for the final. Petra herself put it best: "I don't know what happened, but I couldn't put a serve in."

I don't know what happened, either, but this time, I'm inclined to interpret Kvitova's problem as a "bad day." All players have them. She's obviously fit, she's feeling less afraid since bringing Alex Stober onto her team to help her with her health issues, and she's looked quite confident lately. The Barking Czech was both philosophical and honest about her loss, saying that she couldn't really feel happy about anything right now, but at least she did better this year than she did in 2013 and 2014.

As for Keys, she would have given Kvitova trouble on a good day, with her relentless groundstroke-pounding and what appears to be a new level of confidence. Keys broke the world number 4 five times, devouring the Czech's weak second serves. Her next opponent? Madison Brengle.

Brengle, who was recently treated for skin cancer, has gotten her act together this season in a big way. (She even looks different--more mature.) Brengle began her Melbourne campaign by upsetting 13th seed Andrea Petkovic. She then beat countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe, and will play Keys in the round of 16.

Who's about to be number 12 in the world? Venus Williams! Williams was seriously challenged by Camila Georgi in the first set of their third round match, but then the Italian player fell apart, almost on cue, and Williams was able to dominate. Williams will next play Aga Radwanska, who beat Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets.

Serena Williams, five-time Australian Open champion and world number 1, also got a challege in the form of Elina Svitolina, a young player I've had my eye on for a while. Svitolina was pretty much bossing Williams around in the first set. which she won, but then Williams cleaned up her game and took the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-0.

The world number 1's next opponent will be Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Timea Bacsinszky in a match that began quite competitively, but then--in the third set--turned into yet another Muguruza on-court bagel delivery service. You'll recall that the Spaniard took Williams out of the French Open last year. Yesterday, Williams described that match as one that "opened my eyes toward a lot of things." In other words, you might want to take a good look at Muguruza and enjoy her while you can.

In the most entertaining match I saw yesterday, 2014 runner-up Dominka Cibulkova defeated Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-2, and it was exactly the kind of animated, drama-filled match one would expect from these two. Cibulkova has her Australian Open on, readers.

Another wonderfully drama-filled contest took place between two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who, not long ago, elevated her already fine career to an entirely new level. I've always loved to watch BZS, and the new BZS is even more fun than the old one. Azarenka prevailed, 6-4, 6-4, but it was no walk in the park. It was a task. And the next task will be to play Cibulkova, who lost in last year's final to Li Na.

We have arrived at the round of 16, and one quarter of the draw is made up of women from the USA, two of whom are named Madison. Who saw that coming?

And now, it's Madison time!

Australian Open--what they said

You mentioned Tomasz and Martina. How does to work when you have two different inputs? Do they sit together and tell you the same things together. How is Tomasz adapting to this new situation?
I think we're all very happy and they are really working together as well. It's not like one is saying different thing and the other one completely another thing. So really having now good team, and when we talk about something, it's all together. I think they also having good relationship.
Aga Radwanska

She never stops moving, marching, bouncing, scurrying, swinging, sprinting, sliding, turning and always waiting, never late, to serve or receive. If it feels like you are watching tennis in fast-forward, think what it must feel like to play her.
Michael Beattie, referring to Dominika Cibulkova

...with this run you'll probably move up to 12 in the rankings. That's clearly pretty good. What does that mean to you?
I have to tell you, I've been trying a long time to get my ranking up. That's awesome. It's hard to be ranked lower than what you know you are. So it's definitely exciting to see yourself go up the rankings.
Venus Williams

There was little humility on show from either player but then it just wasn’t that type of match.
Richard Llewellyn Evans, writing about the Cibulkova-Cornet match

What do you remember most about the match against Muguruza at the French?
Losing. But it was a good loss. As angry as I was, it was the best loss I had the whole year last year. Had a lot of them. But that one in particular made me realize what I needed to work on. It opened my eyes towards a lot of things. I was like, Oh, my gosh, if I don't change, then I'm going to be forever in the same position. It actually ended up helping me a lot.
Serena Williams

And finally, Garbine Muguruza does her imitation of the Red Queen:
You never have these kind of matches usually when you play perfect, so just hoping to try to do the same as today and two days ago tomorrow. Not tomorrow, no. The next day. Yeah.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

I don't think it was the prettiest tennis out there today.
Genie Bouchard

Can I ask why you decided not to work any more with Wim Fissette?
Yeah, we had a good season together. But, you know, was my decision. I just wanted to change something. For me, you know, I mean, I have confidence in myself that I can play at the highest level in tennis. So I believe in my chance. Now I'm happy with my team. Was my decision and I'm happy with it.
Simona Halep

She's single and I'm married, go figure.
Martina Navratilova, discussing her lifelong friendship with Chris Evert

Did you ever try two hands on both sides?
I did actually, yeah. I did lefty, two hands on both sides. Like at the circus, I do everything.
Maria Sharapova

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

Sometimes life deals you cards that you aren't expecting, but all you've gotta do is keep playing them and see what happens.
Venus Williams

You go on court and you can beat everyone and you can lose also against everyone.
Aga Radwanska

When the conditions are warm and humid like this, do you find how maybe you don't panic or worry as much now as years past?
Yeah, for sure. Even yesterday when I knew today would be warmer than yesterday, I knew that David was little bit worried about. Me, too, of course. I did not say it. But somewhere in myself was there. But I knew that I'm like prepared better than the years before, I can handle it better. In the end when you are sweaty and the wind is there, it's not that bad than when you are sitting on the bench. It was good.
Petra Kvitova

Is it fair to call this a rejuvenated version of you or is that something we projected on to you and you don't feel that way?
I'm just doing the best I can. I always was, even when it wasn't what I wanted. So whatever that is, I'm doing absolutely the best I can. I think as long as I'm doing my best, something good will come out of it. There is a scripture that says faith without works is dead. So you have to have faith, but you have work too. So I'm doing both.
Venus Williams

I think in the past she's kind of thrown in patches of matches where she's kind of gone away, lost it for a bit, got really erratic. I don't feel she did that at all tonight. She really harnessed all that very well and kept it up from first point to last.
Sam Stosur, referring to Coco Vandeweghe

I have utmost confidence in my forehand, that I could out-rally Stosur today.
Coco Vandeweghe 

What did it seem like to you when you watched it on TV?
I don't really remember. I really don't know actually. When I like wake up in the night, normal people are trying to fall asleep again. But I didn't. I went to living room and watched the TV. For sure it was exciting to me to watch the game.
Petra Kvitova

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maria Sharapova: awakened giant or accident waiting to happen?

According to the tour narrative, Russians don't like playing each other, but Alexandra Panova looked to be having a high old time yesterday when she faced off against Maria Sharapova in Rod Laver Arena. Sharapova is the Australian Open second seed, and Panova is a qualifier ranked number 150 in the world.

Qualifiers should come with a Danger--Flammable! sign pinned on them. No one expects them to even be there, and only hard-core tennis fans know who they are. Playing with house money, a qualifier at a major can sometimes walk onto a very big stage and feel loose enough to cause major damage. That appeared to happen with Panova, who was one cool character from start to finish in yesterday's second round match against her countrywoman. In the end, Panova succumbed to the sometimes frightening fighting mentality of Sharapova, but it wouldn't have taken much for the whole thing to have gone the other way.

Sharapova made 51 unforced errors in the 2 1/2-hour match, which she won 6-1, 4-6 7-5. She double-faulted eight times, which is the kind of thing we've come to expect from the Russian star. Though she handled the first set easily, with stunning 89/80 first and second serve win percentages, by the second set, she looked vulnerable.

Panova, who had obviously put the opening set behind her, broke her opponent in the first game. Sharapova then proceeded to not only flub her serves, but to repeatedly pound her groundstrokes into the net. Panova went up two breaks. Sharapova got one of them back, but Panova prevailed to force a third set.

Sharapova left the court after the second set, and when she returned, she was immediately broken. In what seemed like no time, Panova was up two breaks of serve. At 4-1, she hit two consecutive aces, which probably put an end to the musings of any doubters. But there was one doubter remaining--Panova herself. She double-faulted, and even though she then soon found herself at 40-15, a point away from a 5-1 lead, something had changed. Sharapova sensed it, and broke her opponent as Panova began hitting nothing but errors.

At this point in the match, Sharapova began screaming and glaring and fist-pumping somewhere around 8.5 on the Bartoli Scale, and Panova's psychological advantage had ended. The world 150 served for the match at 5-2, but was broken again. She held a match point at 5-4, 40-30, but she double-faulted, then gave her opponent a 74 mph second serve that Sharapova destroyed with a forehand down the line. Panova held a second match point in that game, only to see it, too, obliterated by the Sharapova forehad.

That was it for Panova. It was all Sharapova after that, and the second seed won on her second match point.

Much has been made about Sharapova's fighting spirit, but the world number 2 needed more than her fighting spirit to turn this match around: She needed her opponent to collapse, and Panova obliged, although she certainly went down harder than most of Sharapova's inexperienced-but-hopeful opponents. Panova had the match on her racket, not once, but several times, but in the end, she wasn't up to the heavy psychological burden of pulling off the biggest upset of the tournament.

Sharapova will next face Zarina Diyas, who could give her a bit of trouble. If she wins that one, the Russian will get either Yaroslava Shvedova or Peng Shuai (who has very quietly moved into the third round). Sharapova is ostensibly on a path to meet Genie Bouchard; however, Bouchard first has to get past the relentless Caroline Garcia. If Sharapova makes it to the quarterfinals, either the Canadian star or the Frenchwoman would be happy to finish the job Panova started.

Sometimes, when a champion stumbles badly in an early round, the scare is a kind of wake-up call, giving her the resolve she needs to stop messing around and get serious. Sometimes, though, it's more of a wake-up call to potential opponents that opportunity is theirs for the grabbing.

Australian Open--what they said

Why don't you like watching yourself?
I don't know. Sometimes I just feel like I have better things to do.
Maria Sharapova

What is it you felt swung things in that key point of the third set?
Well, I didn't feel anything. I just had to win just another point or something.
Alexandra Panova
I played much better than first round tonight, so I'm happy with this. I am more aggressive and I served very well tonight. I played fast. I stayed very close to the baseline.
Simona Halep

...I just really tried to take it a point at a time, think positively, and change my thought process a little bit. When other things aren't working, maybe the mental side of things will help you out. I think in the end maybe that's what did.
Maria Sharapova

You seemed to have a little trouble with the twirl.
With the what?
It was very unexpected. I mean, yeah, I don't know. An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny.
I guess Serena did it.
Well, Serena is good at her twirls. She does them all the time.
Genie Bouchard

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

You can't always go to the side you think is weaker. Just being a bit smarter about things rather than making quick decisions and trying to end points too quickly.
Sam Stosur

You talked about concentrating on breaking and holding, moving your feet. Anything else you do in terms of calming yourself down? Breathing, meditation, anything else you do?
There's a lot of things I do. A lot of mental things that I do. A lot of little tricks that I have in my mind that I just roll around for years and years, always try to stick to 'em. I notice the more I do 'em, the better I play. Things that help keep me focused.
Serena Williams

Of course, I mean, the nerves was there. It was really difficult to handle it. During all match, I was still feeling the tightness and the legs were suddenly so heavy and I couldn't really move.
Petra Kvitova

On tennis tour you need good mental health.
Casey Dellacqua

And finally, a "member of the press" asked Sam:
Know anything about CoCo or Francesca?