Wizards of Oz (III): Stosur, Venus, Sharapova, Djokovic, and More on Australian Open Day 3
The first day of the second round looks rather sparse in general, but we picked out a few potential diamonds in the rough. Let’s start with the ladies for a change.
Zheng vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): When they met a week ago in Sydney, the Aussie suffered from a slow start, rallied to reach a final set, and then let a late lead slip away in a match of unpredictable twists and turns. Although Stosur improved on last year’s performance here by escaping the first round, her first victory of 2013 did not come without a series of wobbles such as donating an early break and failing to serve out the first set. She won fewer free points from her serve than she usually does, which could spell trouble against Zheng again. Despite her limitations on return, due to her short wingspan, the Chinese doubles specialist competes ferociously and should outlast Stosur from the baseline with her more balanced weapons. But she struggled even more to survive her opener and had stumbled through a string of losses before that upset of the Aussie in Sydney.
Venus vs. Cornet (RLA): At the 2009 Australian Open, Cornet stood within a point of the quarterfinals and a signature victory over then-#1 Safina. Match point upon match point slipped away, confidence evaporated, shoulder trouble sidelined her soon afterwards, and the petite Frenchwoman remained too mentally and physically dubious to fulfill her promise as a junior. The relatively slow court might suit her game more than the volatile, inconsistent style of Venus, but the American raised her level dramatically from the Hopman Cup while dropping just one game in the first round. By contrast, the Frenchwoman struggled to hold throughout that match, especially under pressure, so only an implosion by Venus could repeat the Suarez Navarro upset from the same Australian Open in which Cornet faced Safina.
Sharapova vs. Doi (Hisense Arena): On a late afternoon without many marquee matches, the Sharapova Show offers a decent way to end the day session. The 2008 champion has blitzed almost all first-week opponents at majors since the start of 2012, but the caliber of those opponents often has prevented one from accurately judging her form. Doi, who defeated Schiavone last year, may surpass expectations after defeating the more familiar Petra Martic in the first round. In general, though, the value of this match comes from juxtaposing Maria’s form here against what Venus shows in the night session, two days ahead of their highly anticipated third-round collision.
Pervak vs. Watson (Court 8): While Murray and Robson attract most of the attention currently circulating around British tennis, and justly so, Heather Watson may develop into a meaningful talent in her own right. The Bolletieri-trained baseliner twice has taken sets from Sharapova and defeated fellow rising star Sloane Stephens last year before finishing her season with a title in Osaka. Not lacking for durability, she won one of the season’s longest finals there and will attempt to grind down Pervak with a combination of depth and court coverage. Teenagers have excelled in the women’s draw so far, eleven reaching the second round, so this youth movement might bode well for the 20-year-old Watson.
Djokovic vs. Harrison (RLA): The Serb has won all five of their sets and looked his usual imposing self in the first round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, showing off his elastic movement and transition game at the major that most rewards it. For Harrison, who avenged his Olympics loss to Giraldo in four sets, an upset bid will require greater focus and competitive stamina than he has shown so far in his career. Typical of his stop-and-start results was a week in Brisbane when he defeated Isner and lost meekly to Benneteau in the next round. Harrison will need to take more chances earlier in the rallies than he did against Giraldo, especially on his forehand, to take Djokovic outside his comfort zone against an opponent who does nothing better than he does. As with his match against Murray last year, this meeting offers a useful measuring stick to test Harrison’s progress.
Malisse vs. Verdasco (MCA): Even in the twilight of his career, the Belgian defeated the Spaniard on the latter’s weakest surface at Wimbledon last summer. Malisse still can unleash blistering backhands when he times his short swings effectively, and Verdasco looked thoroughly human in a five-set rollercoaster against David Goffin. Both men have shown a tendency to alternate the sublime with the ridiculous, often finding the latter at the least opportune moments, but a comedy of errors could provide its own form of entertainment.
Lacko vs. Tipsarevic (Court 2): The eighth seed played his best tennis in months when he battled past Hewitt in a straight-setter closer than it looked. Ripping winner after winner down the sidelines, Tipsarevic looked every inch the elite player that he has become and could charge deep into a draw where he inhabits the least formidable quarter. He has struggled for much of his career with sustaining a high performance level from match to match, though, which makes a letdown a plausible possibility. If he does, Lacko might have just enough talent to punish him for it.
Lopez vs. Stepanek (Court 3): Aligned opposite each other are two net-rushers from opposite sides, the Spaniard from the left and the Czech from the right. As a result, the tennis might trigger memories of decades past before baseline tennis established its stranglehold over the ATP. Stepanek rallied from a two-set deficit in the first round to ambush Troicki, but a comeback would prove more difficult against a server like Lopez, who has won sets from Federer before. While the Czech has dominated most of their rivalry, the Spaniard did win their last meeting on a similar speed of court in Montreal.
Querrey vs. Baker (Court 6): The man who mounted a long-term comeback meets a man who mounted a more ordinary comeback that culminated last year when he rejoined the top 30. Querrey typically has struggled at majors other than the US Open, however, and he lost a set to an anonymous, underpowered Spaniard in his opener. If he can bomb a high percentage of first serves, Baker may not match him hold for hold. On the other hand, a sloppy effort from Querrey would open the door for his compatriot to expose his meager backhand, one-dimensional tactics, and unsteady footwork.