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The Women on Wednesday: Serena Dazzles, Lisicki Falters

Jan 15th 2014

Plenty of narratives unfolded in the women’s draw as the second round began on Wednesday.  Here are snapshots of how it unfolded.

Serena Williams

Gold star:  Five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams continues to look every inch the top seed and title favorite.  A late start to her first match?  Sweltering heat in her second match?  Nothing has troubled Serena so far, least of all her opponents.  She has lost just six games in her first two matches, the best record of any contender so far.

Silver starUS Open semifinalist Flavia Pennetta continues to take care of business routinely, easing past rising talent Monica Puig on Wednesday.  The open draw that lies ahead of Pennetta offers her an opportunity to reach the second week for the third straight major—or drive even further.

Match of the day:  No starker contrast emerged from any match than the three-set battle between German slugger Sabine Lisicki and the crafty Monica Niculescu.  A surprise Wimbledon finalist last year, Lisicki hammered through Niculescu for a set but fell victim to the spiderweb in which the Romanian entangles foes.  Funky spins and slices, especially on her forehand side, seemed to disrupt Lisicki’s timing in nearly every component of the game.  Even the German’s serve betrayed her near the end of a battle in which David defeated Goliath by unraveling Goliath’s mind.

Comeback of the day:  A flaky competitor like Lucie Safarova often fades when she loses a tight first set in difficult conditions, as she did today.  Safarova proved herself of sterner steel this time, dropping just three total games over the last two sets against compatriot Lucie Hradecka.  The luckier Lucie tends to catch fire once she strings together a few wins.  Beware if she reaches the second week. 

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Five years ago, Casey Dellacqua launched a remarkable run to the second week of her home major.  The Australian lefty now stands within one victory of duplicating the feat of 2014 after she routed No. 18 seed Kirsten Flipkens.  Outside Lleyton Hewitt’s first-round exit, in fact, Australians in both draws have enjoyed a solid first week relative to expectations.

E for effort:  Playing world No. 3 Li Na on Rod Laver Arena, any 16-year-old might feel unnerved by the occasion.  Junior No. 1 Belinda Bencic showed her age as she absorbed a first-set bagel, but then she showed the maturity that bodes well for her future.  Bencic regained her poise in a second set that she extended into a tiebreak.  Although she could not win it, she leaves Melbourne with plenty of promising experiences from which to learn.

Back on track:  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has flown under the radar heading into Melbourne, despite reaching the final in Sydney a few days ago.  For the second straight match, Kerber won an uneventful first set.  After she had let her advantage slip away in the first round, the German dominated behind her serve and marched toward the finish line more smoothly today. 

Reality returns:  Thoroughly anonymous journeywoman Luksika Kumkhum suddenly became much less anonymous when she stunned world No. 6 Petra Kvitova in the first round.  She could not build on that achievement, however, falling in another three-setter to Mona Barthel.  The swift end to that Cinderella story deepens Kvitova’s embarrassment, making her loss look even less plausible in retrospect. 

Luck runs out:  Into the main draw as a lucky loser, Irina Falconi won her first match before failing to solve Ekaterina Makarova.  The Russian with the fiery hair and fiery temper continues her quest for a third straight Australian Open quarterfinal, which sets her on a collision course with Li Na.  For Falconi, meanwhile, a $50,000  check that she never expected starts her season with a flourish.

Daniela Hantuchova

Working overtime:  A $50,000  check might have seemed scant reward to whichever woman lost the epic encounter on Court 13 between Kateryna Pliskova and Daniela Hantuchova.  Those of us peering through monitors and laptop screens could not discern the nuances of the action on this non-televised court.  But the drama and the heart showed by two women who spent over three hours on court in temperatures near triple digits needed no close examination to discern.  It ended with a Pliskova double fault in the 22nd game of the final set, which lasted 112 minutes alone.  But the two halves of the former Czechoslovakia both had reason to feel proud.

Question of the day:  Can Eugenie Bouchard break through a section in which she has become the highest-ranked player to reach her first major quarterfinal?