January 15, 2020

The Rematch

I know we're just a few days away from the Australian Open, but today I want to take a little journey back in time to last year's French Open to make an observation. The ladies draw was weird, wasn't it? Now I say, again, that I hadn't been paying close attention to the game for some time, and so I wasn't too familiar with all the up-and-coming players who'd emerged over time -- but still! Players came out of nowhere to make the second week and beyond.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Karolina Pliskova all lost in the third round, and fourth seeded Kiki Bertens was out by the second. While then defending champion Simona Halep made it to the quarters, by the time we got to the semis, the remaining ladies had an average ranking of #31 and two weren't seeded. I wouldn't have been able to name the runner-up a few days ago.

The careers of the two women who contested the final have gone in very different directions in the seven months since Roland Garros -- Ashleigh Barty converted her title run to a #1 ranking, a WTA Finals trophy, and a top seed at next week's Major. Marketa Vondrousova, meanwhile, is near a career high ranking, but lost in the first round at Wimbledon and was sidelined the rest of the year as a wrist injury and surgery kept her off the court through 2019.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, it turns out the two will face off again Thursday for a spot in the semifinals in Adelaide. And with the next Grand Slam on the horizon things might not go as we expect.

Barty, after all, didn't get off to the best start of the year. She lost her first match in Brisbane last week to qualifier Jennifer Brady an needed two hours and three sets to make it past Anastasia Pavlyucenkova in her opener here. Vondrousova, meanwhile, still ranked high enough for the eighth seed, has only lost three games this week, dealing Alina Rodionova a double bagel Wednesday in just fifty-one minutes.

Can she bring the same strength tomorrow? Probably -- after all, unbeknownst to me until now, she had some solid performances even before Paris last year, making the quarters in both Indian Wells and Miami, with wins over Simona Halep and Elise Mertens along the way. And while she only has one title to her name so far, at just 20 years of age, she's got plenty of time to start racking them up.

But maybe more immediate is the question of what a win tomorrow could mean for the coming fortnight. If Barty can manage a repeat, it could bode well for her confidence in Melbourne. But I gotta say, with no real basis for the statement other than a gut feeling, it seems this match is winnable for the young Czech.

And that might throw the draw wide open not just for the rest of this week, but into the Australian Open as well.

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