Ksenia Pervak

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Their Just Deserts: The Mega WTA Indian Wells Draw Preview

Will Vika hang on to her hardware here as well as she did in Melbourne?

Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!

First quarter:  For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha.  Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other.  In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago.  Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian.  Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd.  Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way.  Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.

The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson.  In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine.  The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki.  Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching.  Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February.  On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress.  She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Second quarter:  Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert.  Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round.  For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality.  Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne.  Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far.  Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it.  If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.

Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber.  A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before.  Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats.  At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw.  The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round.  Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency.  Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods.  Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.

Semifinalist:  Ivanovic

Third quarter:  Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders.  Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea.  Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either.  In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title.  Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011.  Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?

Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova.  Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven.  Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there.  The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros.  Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round.  Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova.  Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.

Semifinalist:  Kvitova

Fourth quarter:  Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013?  Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro.  Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards.  The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur.  Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her.  But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.

Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later).  Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival.  Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08.  If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year.  By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco.  Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!

Wizards of Oz (III): Stosur, Venus, Sharapova, Djokovic, and More on Australian Open Day 3

Will Stosur continue to keep her eye on the ball against a recent nemesis?

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.

WTA:

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.

ATP:

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.

 

Wizards of Oz (I): Australian Open Day 1 Preview

Pack lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack when this man enters Rod Laver Arena.

While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully.  We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.

Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena):  A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea.  Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test.  But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.

Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA):  Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots.  In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena.  Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly.  The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.

Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA):  This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic.  A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career.  That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final.  She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.

Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena):  Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day.  Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others.  The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.

Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense):  The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little.  Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska.  Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.

Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena):  For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4.  Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope.  The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.

Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA):  Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career.  Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden.  Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.

Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA):  After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents.  She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.

Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3):  The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic.  Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years.  The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.

Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8):  From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology.  He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight.  Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.

Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8):  The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker.  The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.

Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11):  Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process).  The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match.  Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.

Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13):  At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce.  A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced.  The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week.  The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.

Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19):  Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans.  She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years.  Is she ready for her comeback?  Perhaps more to the point, are we?

Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20):  From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative.  Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament.  His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland.  Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.

Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22):  Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines.  Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level.  Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.

Excited about these matches and others on Day 1?  Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.

Wozniacki, Kvitova, Stosur among the fallen in Brisbane

Caroline Wozniacki with father Piotr

By Chris Skelton

When the first WTA Premier tournament of the 2013 season began, fans looked forward to seeing a series of marquee matchups in a Brisbane draw that featured eight of the top ten women. Only Radwanska (in Auckland) and Li (in Shenzhen) did not join this star-studded field, which threatened to produce classics from the quarterfinals onwards. But, by the time that the dust settled from the first two rounds, only three of the elite eight remained in the tournament—and one of those three barely. We discuss each of the unexpected plot twists that started the new year.

Pervak d. Wozniacki: During her prime, the former #1 excelled both in finishing matches when she took a lead and in winning the crucial points late in matches through a mixture of consistency and composure. Since her decline began about eighteen months ago, however, she has dwindled in both of those characteristics. Wozniacki dropped a third-set tiebreak in her 2013 opener to the lefty Russian qualifier after winning the first set comfortably and then struggling to hold serve thereafter. Often praised for her maturity when she held the #1 ranking, she grew flustered by train whistles outside the stadium in another symptom of her crumbling confidence. The loss especially surprised because Wozniacki had finished 2012 in encouraging fashion, winning small titles in Seoul and Moscow.

Arvidsson d. Stosur: Much less surprising was the setback that the Australian #1 suffered on home soil, where she regularly has underwhelmed in front of her home fans. The tournament trumpeted the opportunity for Brisbane locals to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their leading lady, which did not turn out as anticipated when she lost her first match to Sofia Arvidsson. Like Wozniacki, Stosur also had ended 2012 on a promising note with a quarterfinal at the US Open, a semifinal in Tokyo, and a final Moscow, but she could not extend her momentum through the offseason. Arvidsson’s flat, uncompromising, but erratic ball-striking recalled the manner in which Cirstea bounced the Aussie in the first round of her home major last year, and her fans must look ahead to Melbourne with apprehension.

Pavlyuchenkova d. Kvitova: In a sense, this match raised eyebrows more because Pavlyuchenkova won it than because Kvitova lost it. The 2011 Wimbledon champion had tumbled down the rankings throughout a 2012 campaign filled with disappointment, culminating with her withdrawal from the year-end championships that she had won the previous year. Dogged by illness and injury throughout her dismal season, Kvitova has achieved her greatest successes in Europe and predictably struggled to shine in the torrid heat of Brisbane. But Pavlyuchenkova endured a year equally frustrating at a lower level of the WTA, failing to capitalize on her two major quarterfinals in 2011 while struggling simply to string together victories. The double faults that have hampered her progress did not surface when she served key games late in the two tight sets of this match, when her groundstrokes matched Kvitova’s in power and surpassed them in consistency. Just as importantly, she looked fitter than she ever has before.

Hantuchova d. Errani: A year or two ago, this result would not have seemed like an upset at all. Hantuchova had led their head-to-head 4-2, and most would have rated the Slovak a far superior talent with her time spent in the top five and two titles at Indian Wells. But Errani drove further into a major at Roland Garros last year than Hantuchova ever had, while the elder woman seemed to drift further into the twilight of her career. In a wild third set filled with break after break, the mentally unreliable Hantuchova managed to outlast the usually sterner-minded Errani as the pressure mounted. Perhaps memories of reaching last year’s final brought confidence to the Slovak, who feasted on arguably the weakest serve in the top 20. As 2013 progresses, Errani faces the same task that Schiavone did in 2011: proving that a single season represented a breakthrough rather than an anomaly.

Sharapova (withdrew, injury): A true coquette, the world #2 has flirted with Brisbane in each of the last two seasons only to withdraw with injuries, this time a curious collarbone issue. Sharapova’s participation in the Australian Open does not lie in question, however, for she simply deemed herself insufficiently prepared to participate in a tournament this week at the current stage of her recovery. Considering her finals appearance in Melbourne last year, similarly without preparation, her fans should not concern themselves too much with this news. Rarely has Sharapova played more than a few exhibitions before the Australian Open in any year, and still she has recorded more semifinal appearances at this major than at any other.

Kerber d. Puig: If you haven’t heard of the Puerto Rican Monica Puig, who reached only a handful of main draws before this week, you’re probably far from alone even among diehard tennis fans. Kerber likely hadn’t heard of her second-round opponent either before this week but somehow suddenly found herself mired in a grueling three-setter against her. Only after a third-set tiebreak that lasted sixteen points did she escape the persistent underdog, after having needed three sets to win her first match as well. Kerber played a huge quantity of third sets in 2012, however, and probably could have won most of them more easily if not for focus lapses. To bolster her longevity on the Tour, she will need to find ways to win more efficiently. In conditions as draining as the Australian heat, few players can afford to play one marathon after another.

***

All the same, Kerber at least survived to fight another day, which is more than many of the notable women in Brisbane could say. Much more impressive were the performance of Azarenka and Serena Williams, who now stand just one victory apiece from meeting in the semifinals there in a rematch of 2012 encounters at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open, and the year-end championships, all won by Serena. We’ll take a close look at that match, if it happens, next.

WTA Bad Gastein gallery – Wickmayer, Cornet, Minella through to quarterfinals

Mine_r16_022

After several days of rain in Bad Gastein, the sun finally arrived on the courts of the Nurnberger Gastein Ladies tournament in Austria, and the quarterfinals have been set. Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Bad Gastein all week, including today’s on-court action. Check out his full gallery below!

Results – Thursday, June 14, 2012
Singles – Second Round
(2/WC) Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) 76(4) 63
(3) Ksenia Pervak (KAZ) d. Sarah Gronert (GER) 62 63
Mandy Minella (LUX) d. (4) Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) 62 36 63
(Q) Chichi Scholl (USA) d. (6) Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 63 64
(7) Alizé Cornet (FRA) d. Sacha Jones (AUS) 63 62
(8) Johanna Larsson (SWE) d. Jill Craybas (USA) 62 63
Yvonne Meusburger (AUT) d. (Q) Dia Evtimova (BUL) 62 63
Estrella Cabeza Candela (ESP) d. (Q) Richel Hogenkamp (NED) 64 63

Doubles – First Round
(1) Groenefeld/Martic (GER/CRO) d. Cabeza Candela/Duque-Mariño (ESP/COL) 36 64 103 (Match TB)
(4) Craybas/Goerges (USA/GER) d. (WC) Neuwirth/Rottmann (AUT/AUT) 62 62
Birnerova/Hogenkamp (CZE/NED) d. (WC) Haas/Toljan (AUT/AUT) 64 61
Jugic-Salkic/Klemenschits (BIH/AUT) d. Abramovic/Tomljanovic (CRO/CRO) 76(5) 61

Order Of Play – Friday, June 15, 2012
Centre Court (from 11.00hrs)
1. Ksenia Pervak vs. Chichi Scholl
2. Yvonne Meusburger vs. Yanina Wickmayer (NB 13.00hrs)
3. Johanna Larsson vs. Mandy Minella
4. Estrella Cabeza Candela vs. Alizé Cornet
5. Jugic-Salkic/Klemenschits vs. Begu/Minella

Court 1 (from 11.00hrs)
1. Jurak/Marosi vs. Birnerova/Hogenkamp
2. Groenefeld/Martic vs. Lee-Waters/Moulton-Levy
3. Costas-Moreira/Ferrer Suárez vs. Craybas/Goerges

WTA Bad Gastein gallery – Petra Martic ousted by local favorite Yvonne Meusburger

Mart_r32_014m

By Romi Cvitkovic

The WTA tournament in Bad Gastein has been getting surprised with seeds crashing out just as much as the rain delaying play. And today was no different.

In a rain-interrupted Wednesday, fifth-seeded Petra Martic who had just come off of her career-best showing at a Slam by making the fourth round of the French Open last week, was ousted by local favorite Yvonne Meusburger who saved four match points to win with a score of 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5).

Another seed, number three Ksenia Pervak saved five match points during her 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory against opponent Lara Arruabarrena-Veci.

Sixth-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu was forced to three sets and saved six-of-eight break points in the final set to beat her German opponent, Kathrin Woerle, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

Eighth-seeded Johanna Larsson also defeated qualifier Jana Cepelova, 6-4, 7-6(1).

16-year-old Austrian wildcard Barbara Haas saw her WTA tournament debut come to an end as she was defeated by qualifier Dia Evtimova, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. Still active on the juniors circuit while reaching the finals of $10,000 ITF tournaments, expect to see the name “Haas” (no relation to Tommy Haas, supposedly) appear again in the future.

Other results:
Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) d. (WC) Nicole Rottmann (AUT) 6-2 6-3
Jill Craybas (USA) d. Nina Bratchikova (RUS) 7-5 6-3
(Q) Chichi Scholl (USA) d. Zuzana Ondraskova (CZE) 6-3 6-0

Check out the day’s matches in our full gallery below by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm!

Mondays With Bob Greene: Roger, sorry for today

STARS

(Australian Open)

Men’s singles: Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6 (3) 3-6 6-2

Women’s singles: Serena Williams beat Dinara Safina 6-0 6-3

Men’s doubles: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 2-6 7-5 6-0

Women’s doubles: Venus Williams and Serena Williams beat Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama 6-3 6-3

Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi beat Nathalie Dechy and Andy Ram 6-3 6-1

Junior Boys singles: Yuki Bhambri beat Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas 6-3 6-1

Junior Girls singles: Ksenia Pervak beat Laura Robson 6-3 6-1

Junior Boys doubles: Francis Casey Alcantara and Hsieh Cheng-Peng beat Mikhal Biryukov and Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-4 6-2

Junior Girls doubles: Christina McHale and Ajla Tomljanovic beat Alexandra Krunic and Sandra Zaniewska 6-1 2-6 10-4 (match tiebreak)

Women’s Wheelchair Singles: Esther Vergeer beat Korie Homan 6-4 6-2

Men’s Wheelchair Singles: Shingo Kunieda beat Stephane Houdet 6-2 6-4

Quad Wheelchair Singles: Peter Norfolk beat David Wagner 7-6 (5) 6-1

(Other Tournaments)

Benjamin Becker beat Karol Beck 6-4 6-4 to win the Heilbronn Open in Heilbronn, Germany

SAYING

“Roger, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now. Remember, you’re a great champion, you’re one of the best in history.” – Rafael Nadal, consoling a crying Roger Federer after winning his first hard court Grand Slam title.

“I love this game. It means the world to me, so it hurts when you lose.” – Roger Federer, after losing to Rafael Nadal.

“I always believe I’m the best, whether I’m number 1 or 100. Just having that extra bonus is pretty cool.” – Serena Williams, who moved into the WTA Tour’s number one ranking by winning the Australian Open.

“She played exactly the way she had to play and she was much more aggressive and she was just taking time out of me, so I didn’t have that much time to put myself back onto the court. She didn’t even let me come into the match.” – Dinara Safina, after losing to Serena Williams in the women’s final.

“All I know is Serena usually picks up the bill.” – Mike Bryan, discussing the co-celebration of the two doubles champions, brothers Mike and Bob Bryan and sisters Serena and Venus Williams.

“It’s always a dream to win a Grand Slam. That’s what we all play for. … It makes it more special because it’s with someone that I know for so long and so well.” – Sania Mirza, after teaming with Mahesh Bhupathi to win the mixed doubles.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re down two sets to him and scraping, trying to survive.” – Andy Roddick, after losing to Roger Federer.

“I think I was maybe not aggressive enough and maybe I was playing not deep enough, which allowed her to be very aggressive and dictate the game.” – Elena Dementieva, after losing to Serena Williams 6-3 6-4, snapping a 15-match win streak.

“I just have a bad day. He’s Roger Federer (and) if you don’t be good, you lose.” – Juan Martin del Potro, who lost his quarterfinal match to Federer 6-3 6-0 6-0.

“I don’t think I put in a bad performance. She was just coming every time with a better shot to my shot. Sometimes you have to accept someone is just better than you.” – Marion Bartoli, after losing to Vera Zvonareva 6-3 6-0.

SPANISH KING

Rafael Nadal won his first Grand Slam title on a hard court and became the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open as he out-fought Roger Federer in a five-set, 4-hour, 23-minute struggle. It was Nadal’s fifth victory over his Swiss rival in seven Grand Slam finals, three of them on the clay at Roland Garros. The other came on grass at Wimbledon. The loss also denied Federer the chance to equal the men’s record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles set by Pete Sampras. It was the first five-set final in Melbourne in 21 years and was so close that Federer actually won more points in the match – 174 to Nadal’s 173. It was the Spaniard, though, who won the key points. “It is very special for me. It’s a dream win, one Grand Slam on a hard court,” said the 22-year-old Nadal. “I’ve worked very hard all my life to improve my tennis outside of clay. I’m very happy, very happy to win the title.” Nadal won a thrilling five-set match against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals and became the first man since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001 to win a Grand Slam title with five-set victories in the final two rounds.

SUPER SERENA

Serena Williams crushed Dinara Safina 6-0 6-3 to win her fourth Australian Open women’s singles title and regain the number one ranking. She also teamed with her sister Venus to capture the women’s doubles crown and became the all-time leading money winner in women’s sports, her career earnings now above USD $23.5 million. Golfer Annika Sorenstam, who retired at the end of last season, was the previous all-time leader at USD $22,573,192. Safina won just eight points in the opening set as Serena won back-to-back majors for the first time since winning the Australian Open in 2003, when she completed her “Serena Slam” of four consecutive majors. The only other woman to win consecutive majors since then was Justine Henin.

SIBLING SUCCESS

The doubles was a sibling thing at the Australian Open as sisters Venus and Serena Williams won the women’s title, while brothers Bob and Mike Bryan captured the men’s crown. It was the eighth Grand Slam doubles title for Venus and Serena, who also won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing last summer. And it was their third title in Melbourne, having also won in 2001 and 2003. In winning their seventh Grand Slam title, the Bryans regained their number one ranking. Like the sisters, the Bryans also had won twice before in Melbourne, in 2006 and 2007.

SWEATING BULLETS

Elena Dementieva was surprised the roof on Rod Laver Arena was not closed prior to the start of her quarterfinal match against Carla Suarez Navarro. Svetlana Kuznetsova was angry that officials closed the roof during her match against Serena Williams. Dementieva won her match 6-2 6-2 in the almost 100-degree-plus heat. But the extreme heat policy was not brought into play until later in the day. Kuznetsova was up a set against Williams when play was suspended and the roof was closed. Williams, who looked to be struggling in the intense heat, was rejuvenated in the cooler conditions. Kuznetsova, who served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, was visibly annoyed when the roof was closed after the first set. “Yeah I was definitely angry,” she said. “Why should I not be? The game was going my way. I’m fine playing with the roof open. … It’s two different games. One you play inside, one you play outside.”

SCHEDULE CHANGE?

Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic believe the women should not always go first when it comes to playing night matches at the Australian Open. After beating the 2008 champion Djokovic, Roddick said he believes men should play the first night match occasionally during the first week of a Grand Slam tournament. Djokovic and Marcos Baghdatis complained of a late start when their fourth-round match finished at 2:26 a.m. because the previous women’s match had last three hours. The men didn’t get on court until 11:10 p.m. “If all things are equal, then I feel like the scheduling should be the same,” Roddick said. All four Grand Slam tournaments pay equal prize money to men and women.

SPEAKING UP

Jimmy Connors will be the lead analyst for Tennis Channel when it telecasts the US Open later this year. It’s the first time Connors has been an announcer on a US TV network since 1991, when he was working for NBC while still competing as a player. After he retired, the winner of eight Grand Slam tournaments worked for the British Broadcasting Corp. at Wimbledon from 2005-2007.

SHE’S BACK

Jelena Dokic is back. After spending three years away from the top level of the sport, the 25-year-old Dokic reached the Australian Open quarterfinals where she took world number three Dinara Safina to three sets before falling. Once ranked number four in the world, Dokic had a very public split from her domineering father Damir, moved back to Australia and won a wildcard qualifying tournament to make the main draw in the year’s first Grand Slam tournament since 2006. Then she recaptured the hearts and minds of her adopted homeland with a series of contrite apologies for her previous behavior. It didn’t hurt that she beat 17th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze in the second round, 11th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in the third round and 29th-seeded Alisa Kleybanova in the fourth round. “Everything is positive,” Dokic said. “I think I’ve shown that I can play with some of the best girls in the world, top 20 and top 10.”

SUITING UP AGAIN

Patrick Rafter, who won the US Open in 1997 and 1998, will make his debut on the Outback Champions Series tennis circuit next month in Los Cabos, Mexico. Rafter will compete in the Del Mar Development Champions Cup to be held March 18-22, a first-year event on the tennis circuit for champion players age 30 and over. Now 36, Rafter is best known for becoming the first Australian man to win the US Open since John Newcombe in 1973.

SURVIVAL KEY

Former Yugoslavia Davis Cup coach Radmilo Armenulic says Serbia’s three leading players need to work harder if they are to survive at the top. Armenulic said Novak Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic traveled to Australia too late to become acclimatized to the summer heat. He feels they should have gone to Australia at least one month in advance of the Australian Open. Armenulic called for Jankovic to improve her second serve, which he said is easy prey for her rivals, and said Ivanovic is falling prey to distractions, including questions about her private life.

STILL WINNING

Esther Vergeer ran her winning streak to 357 matches as she once again won the women’s wheelchair singles at the Australian Open, beating Dutch compatriot Korie Homan 6-4 6-2. Vergeer says she has no problems staying motivated, noting: “It’s not that I’m aiming for this one title or tournament, even though I’d like to go to Wimbledon. It’s more about getting the best out of myself.”

STARS OF INDIA

Sania Mirza became the first Indian woman to win a senior Grand Slam tournament title when she teamed up with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi to capture the Australian Open mixed doubles, beating Nathalie Dechy of France and Andy Ram of Israel 6-3 6-1. The year’s first Grand Slam tournament also saw Yuki Bhambri become the first player from India to win a Grand Slam junior singles title. Bhupathi, who has now won 11 majors in doubles play, including seven in mixed competition, was runner-up in the men’s doubles with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas.

SHIFTING GLOBE

Besides India, other Asian countries are providing winners in tennis. Francis Casey Alcantara of the Philippines teamed with Hsieh Cheng-Peng of Taiwan to win the junior boys’ doubles at the Australia Open, besting Mikhal Biryukov of Russia and Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan in the title match, 6-4 6-2. It is Hsieh’s third junior Grand Slam doubles title, winning at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year.

STUDENT

Gustavo Kuerten has returned to school. The three-time Roland Garros champion, now 32 years old, will study theater at UDESC, the state university of Santa Catarina in Brazil. Kuerten was admitted to the university after he finished his exam in fifth place among the Arts Major contenders. He is interested in writing screenplays and directing movies. He retired from tennis last year after struggling with a right hip injury.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Heilbronn: Karol Beck and Jaroslav Levinsky beat Benedikt Dorsch and Philipp Petzschner 7-6 (3) 7-5

SITES TO SURF

Zagreb: www.zagrebindoors.com/indoors.htm

Vina del Mar: www.movistaropen.cl/

Johannesburg: www.zagrebindoors.com/indoors.htm

Wroclaw: www.kghm-atp.pl

Fed Cup: www.fedcup.com

Costa Do Sauipe: www2.uol.com.br/tenisbrasil/brasilopen/

Rotterdam: www.abnamrowtt.nl/

San Jose:

Paris: www.opengdfsuez.com

Pattaya City: www.pentangelepromotions.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$581,850 PBZ Zagreb Indoors, Zagreb, Croatia, hard

$500,000 SA Tennis Open, Johannesburg, South Africa, hard

$496,750 Movistar Open, Vina del Mar, Chile, clay

$137,704 KGHM Dialog Polish Indoor, Wroclaw, Poland, hard

FED CUP

(First Round)

World Group

Russia vs. China at Moscow, Russia

France vs. Italy at Orleans, France

United States vs. Argentina at Surprise, Arizona, USA

Czech Republic vs. Spain at Brno, Czech Republic

World Group 2

Slovak Republic vs. Belgium at Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Switzerland vs. Germany at Zurich, Switzerland

Serbia vs. Japan at Belgrade, Serbia

Ukraine vs. Israel at Kharkiv, Ukraine

Europe Zone Group 1

At Tallinn, Estonia

Austria, Belarus, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Great Britain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden

American Zone Group 1

At Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Venezuela

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1

At Perth, Australia

Australia, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, India, New Zealand and Korea

Asia/Oceana Zone Group 2

At Perth, Australia

Kazakhstan, Hong Kong China, Iran and Singapore

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$1,877,000 ABN AMRO World Tennis, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, hard

$600,000 SAP Open, San Jose, California, USA, hard

$562,500 Brasil Open, Costa Do Sauipe, Brazil, clay

WTA TOUR

$700,000 Open GDF Suez, Paris, France, carpet

$220,000 PTT Pattaya Women’s Open, Pattaya City, Thailand, hard

All Quiet On the Challenger Front

With Roland Garros qualifying taking place, this was a quiet week on the challenger circuit. The relatively weak draws allowed two players primarily competing on the futures circuit, George Bastl and Nina Bratchikova, to break through and score much needed challenger victories.

Yen Hsun-Lu of Taipei has had outstanding results on the challenger circuit this year, but has had problems closing the door in the final match. Last week proved to be no different as Lu reached his fourth consecutive challenger final at the $50,000 event in New Delhi, India, but lost 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the championship match to Go Soeda of Japan. Soeda has also been a strong performer during the Asian swings of the challenger circuit this year, winning events in Kyoto, Japan and Busan, Korea.

The $50,000 challenger in Fergana, Uzbekistan, featured two players competing in their first challenger final of the year. In the end, Pavel Snobel of the Czech Republic prevailed 7-5, 6-3 over George Bastl of Switzerland. Bastl, who is best remembered for beating Pete Sampras in the legend’s final match at Wimbledon in 2002, has slipped to No. 380 in the world and competes primarily on the futures circuit. However, his form this week brings him slightly closer to his previous top 100 form.

At the $25,000 event in Nagano, Japan, Erika Takao of Japan completed her return from injury with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Jin-A Lee of Korea in the final. Takao, who has been high as No. 128 in the world, used her previous experience to overwhelm Lee throughout the contest; Takao was competing in her 10th challenger final while this was the first for Lee.

At the $25,000 challenger event in Moscow, Russia, Nina Bratchikova prevailed in the all Russian final against Ksenia Pervak, coming back from 5-3 in the final set to win by a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 score. Bratchikova is also in the main draw of this week’s challenger event in Russia.

The men retain the spotlight this week as top seeded Yen-Hsun Lu will look to reach his fifth consecutive challenger final at the $75,000 event in Izmir, Uzbekistan. Robert Kendrick of the United States leads the way at the $50,000 event in Carson, California, while Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia leads the way at the $35,000 challenger in Karlsruhe, Germany.

On the women’s side, Angela Haynes of the United States is the top seed this week at the $50,000 challenger in Carson, California. Teodora Mircic of Serbia is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Togliatti, Russia, Kyra Nagy of Hungary takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Galatina, Italy, while Junri Namigata of Japan is top seed at the $25,000 challenger in Gunma, Japan.

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