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WTA Best and Worst: Friday at the Australian Open

Jan 17th 2014

Your daily digest of WTA action returns to discuss third-round matches in the top half of the women’s draw.  The day unfolded according to expectations overall, setting the stage for an intriguing start to the second week.

Match of the day:  Tennis is a game of inches, or even millimeters.  It is also a game of opportunities seized and squandered.  Both of these truths emerged from the only women’s epic of the day, in which Li Na regrouped from a dismal start to deny Lucie Safarova’s upset by the narrowest of margins.  The Czech lefty rolled through the first set and outplayed Li for most of the second.  Constantly keeping the world No. 4 under pressure, Safarova finally found herself at match point.  To her credit, she decided her own fate.  Safarova swung from her heels and belted a backhand toward the corner of sideline and baseline, the sort of shot that she had made often enough throughout the afternoon.  Hawkeye replay showed the ball just long, and the underdog’s visible letdown made the ending inevitable from there.

Serena Williams

Gold star:  Long-legged Slovak Daniela Hantuchova never had much chance against world No. 1 Serena Williams, who had won eight of their nine previous meetings.  Far from her best this afternoon, Serena still won nearly all of the key points in a match less routine than the score showed.  She broke Margaret Court’s record for Australian Open victories with 61, and she completed the first week with just 12 total games lost. 

Silver star:  Advancing almost simultaneously with Serena, Angelique Kerber overcame a series of poor service games in the second set to reach the second week here for the second straight year.  The ninth-ranked German shone in return games against the potent serve of Alison Riske.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Melbourne fans must have spent much of this week thinking back to the 2009 Australian Open, when Casey Dellacqua reached the second week.  The lefty doubles specialist notched notable upsets in that run, whereas this year she largely exploited an open section of the draw.  Nevertheless, Dellacqua has charged to the second week of her home major once again, mastering the pressure of performing on Rod Laver Arena to defeat the tenacious Zheng Jie.  

Picking her spots:  Sometimes it’s not how many matches a player wins, but when they win them.  Back in the top 30, Flavia Pennetta owes her improved ranking to three straight second-week appearances at majors.  She did not drop a set in the first week of the Australian Open, looking as solid as anyone not named Serena.  Pennetta has won only five matches at non-majors since Roland Garros last spring, but she has doubled that win total at the three most important tournaments during that span.

Eugenie Bouchard

First, but not last:  Overshadowed by more familiar names, Eugenie Bouchard quietly reached the second week of a major for the first time.  The young 30th seed from Canada did not drop a set to any of her first three opponents, and her most recent victory marked her finest of the three by far.  Viewers might catch glimpses of Maria Sharapova in Bouchard, who wears outfits designed by the glamorous Russian champion.  Soon enough, though, everyone will start to recognize her for herself as her penetrating first strikes carry her up the rankings. 

Mak-ing it happen, again:  A few years ago, nobody would have predicted that Ekaterina Makarova could reach three straight Australian Open quarterfinals.  Now she stands on the brink of that feat, needing to avenge a three-set US Open loss to Li.  Considering that player’s vulnerability today, the upset might well happen.  Makarova passed the test of Monica Niculescu’s funky repertoire of spins and slices more easily than one might have expected from the temperamental Russian.