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WTA Rewind: Highs and Lows from Day 1 of the Australian Open

Jan 13th 2014

Before world No. 1 Serena Williams entered Rod Laver Arena in the night session, plenty of other notable WTA action unfolded on Day 1 at the Australian Open.  Catch up on what happened in bite-size nuggets.

Ekaterina Makarova

Match of the day:  It probably was not the cleanest encounter of Day 1, but the Venus Williams-Ekaterina Makarova contest featured plenty of intriguing twists and turns.  A fast start by the American faded midway through the second set when her serve began to falter.  The pair endured deuce game after deuce game as pinpoint returns and groundstrokes struck keener blows than serves.  A two-time quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, Makarova must have felt encouraged when she earned triple break point in the first game of the final set.  But she needed to weather one more charge from the tenacious Williams before winning six of the last seven games to keep her history of Australian Open success alive.

Upset(s) of the day:  Burnout seemed inevitable for Sara Errani when she logged so many hours on court over the past two seasons.  Tied for doubles No. 1 with partner Roberta Vinci, Errani advanced deep into both singles and doubles draws as she rose into the top 10.  A heavy schedule caught up with the world No. 7 late last year, and its effects have trickled into 2014.  Errani won just five games from mercurial German Julia Goerges, exiting as meekly as a top-eight seed ever does.  The 12th-seeded Vinci, later in her career arc, also mustered little resistance to fellow doubles specialist Zheng Jie.

More stunning was the dismissal of Petra Kvitova by unheralded Thai player Luksika Kumkhum, who never had defeated an opponent approaching Kvitova's caliber.  Many had felt that the inconsistent Czech had turned her career around with strong results at marquee Asian tournaments last fall, but today suggested otherwise.  Kvitova exuded the same weary, fatalistic body language that has characterized most of her early setbacks at majors since winning Wimbledon three long years ago.  As time passes, the world No. 6 looks more and more like a mournful case of what might have been.

Stat of the day:  No fewer than 27 years separated Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic from ageless Japanese star Kimiko Date-Krumm, first-round opponents in Melbourne.  Youth was served in the end, as most expected, but Date-Krumm gave Bencic all that she could handle across the course of three sets.

Breakfest of the day:  Perhaps troubled by the soaring temperatures, former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic and Dutch slugger Kiki Bertens traded 11 breaks in the first 14 games on Hisense Arena.  The Serb held serve just twice in each set, which still was good enough to win routinely.  Ivanovic had gained attention as a possible dark horse after winning the Auckland tournament this month, but she looked surprisingly off-key at times.  Getting through the first round might settle her nerves. 

Gold star:  In barely an hour, two-time Australian Open finalist Li Na cruised through her first match Down Under while losing just two games.  Qualifier Ana Konjuh had upset top-20 opponent Roberta Vinci in Auckland earlier this month, so Li’s first test was not to be taken for granted.  Often struggling in the first week of majors, she continued her pattern of January success while conserving energy for the later rounds.

Monica Puig

Silver star:  A second-week appearance at Wimbledon last summer lifted Monica Puig to the attention of the tennis world.  The Puerto Rican talent had returned to obscurity for much of the intervening time.  But today marked Puig’s first career victory at a hard-court major, a solid straight-sets result on which she can build momentum.

Wooden spoon:  First to lose at the 2014 Australian Open, Laura Robson won just three games from 18th seed Kirsten Flipkens.  The young British talent will drop outside the top 50 after a stretch in which she has battled a wrist injury and dropped six of her last seven matches.  Compatriot Heather Watson followed Robson to the exit soon afterward, leaving Andy Murray as the only British player still in either singles draw.

Unsung heroine:  Former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva reached consecutive finals at Wimbledon and the US Open just four years ago.  Derailed by injuries until recently, Zvonareva had not played a match at a major since Wimbledon 2012.  Her return to that stage today did not have a happy ending, for she fell routinely to Australian lefty Casey Dellacqua.  In the larger picture, though, Zvonareva’s renewed ability to compete marks a triumph greater than any match that she could have won today.

E for effort:  The winner of Asia’s Australian Open Wildcard Playoff, world No. 431 Haochen Tang would have come into nearly any main draw match as a heavy underdog.  Tang’s hopes faded even further when she drew Canadian phenom and 30th seed Eugenie Bouchard, who triggered a series of breakthroughs last fall.  And yet Tang would scratch and claw at Bouchard throughout a grueling encounter, even holding a set point in the hour-long first set.  Seeded at a major for the first time, the rising Canadian may have felt the pressure of her elevated status.  Once the disappointment fades, though, Tang likely will remember her trip to Melbourne forever.

11, then 12, on 13:  After reaching the second week of Wimbledon and the semifinals of the US Open, Flavia Pennetta continues to sizzle.  On Court 13, the Italian veteran swept the first 11 games against Alexandra Cadantu before settling for a 6-0 6-2 victory.  In the next match on that (un?)lucky court, Annika Beck swept 12 straight games from Petra Martic for the tournament’s first double bagel.

Question of the day:  As temperatures climb well into triple digits this week, who has the fitness most equipped to handle the heat?