January 22, 2009

The Match(es) of the Moment

I was originally planning to dedicate this morning's post to what I considered the most memorable match of the second round, but man were there a lot to choose from.

I'll start with the one that made my jaw drop this morning.

Venus Williams hasn't been the biggest threat on hard courts in several years. Even though she won the Sony-Ericsson WTA Championships on the surface last year, she did so almost as the underdog with an eighth seed. In the Majors she hasn't made it to a final on anything other than grass since 2003. Even still you know opponents were terrified to see her in their side of the draw in Melbourne this week. And pundits were talking about the potential semifinal matchup between her and her sister as soon as the bracket was released.

But all those players can breathe a sigh of relief this morning -- on Thursday Carla Suárez Navarro, playing in her very first Australian Open, took Venus out of contention in three sets.

The match started predictably enough, with Williams winning the first set 6-2 in less than half an hour. She won all eleven points on her first serve and almost half the points on Carla's serve. But in the second set Suárez Navarro amped up her game -- she served more winners and fewer errors than she had in the first and converted both of her break opportunities. The third set went the distance -- sixty-three minutes and eighty points played. Venus couldn't capitalize on match point with Carla serving at 4-5, and a double fault in the subsequent service game handed the match to the forty-sixth ranked Suárez Spaniard.

No one expected the result. In the preview of the match posted on the Open's website before the match, Alan Trengove wrote:

"The 20-year-old Spaniard would have a better chance at Roland Garros, where she reached the quarterfinals on clay courts as a qualifier. On hardcourt, she could be overwhelmed. Williams in straight."

But I can't help feel that it's just an indication of how wide open the women's draw really is. With five different women holding the top ranking last year, the #1 spot is really up for grabs at this tournament.

Number One may still be a long shot for Amer Delic, one of only two American men to make it through the qualifying rounds in Australia, but he's certainly on the rise. In the main draw the twenty-six year old has had to fight more than most. His first round match went five sets and almost three hours against countryman Taylor Dent, but he was even more impressive in the second round against 28th-seeded Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Less than an hour into the match, he was down two sets to love, and it looked like he would soon be headed home. But he rallied in the third set with the help of six aces and won the fourth in a tiebreak. The deciding set took sixteen games and seventy-two minutes, but Delic had better first and second serve percentages. There was only one break the entire set, but it was the one that counted. Amer became the fourth U.S. man, and the only one not ranked in the top 25, to make it to the third round.

Next he faces world #3 Novak Djokovic, to whom he lost in four sets at Wimbledon two years ago. It'll be a tough task, especially after two five-set matches in sweltering heat, but stranger things have certainly happened.

The last two matches yielded results I've been looking forward to for some time. Marcos Baghdatis followed up a straight-set win in the first round by knocking out #16 Robbie Soderling with relative ease. And, in a matchup I was a bit torn over, Jelena Dokic continued her comeback with a win over a still-stuggling Anna Chakvetadze. They'll both struggle in the next round, Marcos against Mardy Fish and Jelena against Caroline Wozniacki, but whatever the results, they've both chosen to make their statements here in Australia.

See you next time!

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