February 13, 2021

A Chance to Rebound

Something kind of cool is going on over on Court 10 at Melbourne Park.

While play at the Australian Open remains in full swing, and a couple dozen men and women are still battling it out for the first Grand Slam of the year, some of those already eliminated -- some who were expected to last much longer in the main draws -- are back in action for a new WTA 250 event.

It makes sense to get a little more out of the players when possible -- so many traveled halfway around the world, endured a strict quarantine with little opportunity to practice or rack up ranking points, only to lose their first or second match and, in another world, be sent packing. Sure, losing early is a risk you run at any tournament, but under these particular circumstances, it feels especially like a waste.

So many of the women who didn't make it to the second week of the Open are now vying for the Phillip Island Trophy, and while winning here may not be quite as fulfilling as bringing home a Major, at least there's a quick opportunity to rebound from their recent, sometimes crushing losses.

Former top tenner Daria Kasatkina has had more than a couple setbacks in her efforts to regain top form, but she's had some promising moments too. She beat seeded Polona Hercog last week in the Gippsland draw and a strong Elena Rybakina last year in Ostrava. She had chances in her second round against red-hot Aryna Sabalenka, getting an early break to start the match, but ultimately fell in straights. She kicked off her Phillip Island campaign with a second straight win over Katie Boulter and next faces comeback queen Varvara Gracheva. It's not out of the question to see her make a deep run.

Young Anastasia Potapova similarly looked strong early in her third round against Serena Williams on the big stage, getting a couple breaks in the first set and even an opportunity to serve it out. But she couldn't keep her level up after dropping the opener in a tiebreak and ultimately lost in straights. She proved she has talent, though, and could captialize this week -- she'll open against Rebecca Peterson, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the upset.

And then there's Danielle Collins, a one-time semifinalist in Melbourne and a quarterfinalist last year at the French. She'd already beaten sixth seed Karolina Pliskova at the Yarra Valley Classic, and I'm frankly surprised she wasn't able to do it again in the second round of the Open. She kicks off against either veteran Varvara Lepchenko or Nao Hibino, and is the heavy favorite against either.

Interestingly, though, things haven't got the way of the favorites so far. Sloane Stephens continues to struggle with form and after a loss to Yulia Putintseva at the Open, she lost her first round to Gracheva. And maybe more surprisingly, Nadia Podoroska and Anastasija Sevastova also dropped their first rounds.

But there's an opportunity for others -- Sofia Kenin, who failed early in her bid to defend her first Grand Slam trophy, takes on little-known Australian Olivia Gadecki on Sunday, while 2019 U.S. Open champ Bianca Andreescu, unable to handle a deep challenge from Su-Wei Hsieh as she tried to stage her own comeback, will open against Madison Brengle.

Can these ladies come back and show us what they're really made of? Well, this is as good a chance as any to do it. And if they can make some hay out of what's obviously a complicated situation Down Under, it might all be worth it.

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