January 14, 2009

Hot Child in the Sydney

It's friggin' cold in New York and, for more than a few reasons, I'm beginning to wonder why I didn't have the foresight to book a one-way ticket to Australia, where it's supposed to hit a refreshing 90 degrees in Sydney on Thursday.

And it's not just the temperature that's hot -- the action on the tennis courts this week has been too. Three of the top four women's seeds at the Medibank International advanced to the semifinals of the tournament -- #4 Vera Zvonareva pulled out due to illness.

But despite the seemingly expected results so far, the play hasn't gone quite as smoothly as you might have expected.

Top seed Serena Williams, who skipped last week's action due to a hamstring injury faced a bit of a shaky start in her return. She faced four match points in the first round against the highest-ranked Australian player, Samantha Stosur. Two rounds later Danish upstart Caroline Wozniacki had another three chances to eliminate the former world #1. But Serena struggled through a third-set tiebreak and eventually pulled out the win.

On the bottom half of the draw, Dinara Safina looks to improve on her runner-up performance in Perth last week, where she lost to nineteen-year-old Dominika Cibulkova in the finals. She coasted through her first two rounds, losing a total of only six games. But Safina hit a bit of a wall against Alize Cornet who, in the past year, has notched wins over Daniela Hantchukova, Anna Chakvetadze, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams. The two traded breaks early in the match, and Safina even found herself down 1-4 in the second set before she was able to rebound and take the match in straight sets.

Elena Dementieva continued her undefeated streak for 2009, but not without some drama of her own. The champion in Auckland last week, scored easy wins over her first two opponents in Sydney. But against tenth-ranked Aggie Radwanska -- who won their last two meetings, most recently in Istanbul last May -- it took two and three-quarter hours and three sets before Elena earned her right to meet Serena in the semis.

The lone unseeded player to make it to the final four was Ai Sugiyama who took her place after #5 Svetlana Kuznetsova pulled out with an abdominal strain. The thirty-three year old veteran, once ranked as high as #8 in the world, has never made it past the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam and hasn't won a singles title since 2004. But a win in Sydney could increase her intimidation factor at next week's Australian Open. She's still got quite a task ahead of her though -- she hasn't beaten Safina in more than five years, when Ai was ranked fourteenth and Dinara #66.

As the temperatures heat up Down Under, all four women are primed to do the same, each focused on making one last statement before the year's first Major. Every one of them still has a mountain to climb before taking the title, and you know it'll be fun to watch!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

The two semifinal women's matches weren't quite as dramatic as previous rounds, but you could still say the results were a bit unexpected.

Dinara Safina struggled a bit against Ai Sugiyama, winning the match in a second-set tiebreak while Elena Dementieva practically rolled over Serena Williams in little more than an hour.

That sets up the tenth meeting between the Russians -- but Elena is on a roll, having won their last two matches and taking the championship in Auckland last week.

I'm hoping she's able to pull it out again -- this could be her year!