Tuesday, January 19, 2016

By the Letters: 2016 Australian Open Day 2

A is for Ace. John Isner hit 37 of them to take down Jerzy Janowicz in three sets. The middle set was the big deal: it went to a tiebreaker and Isner (who didn't face a break point all match) was down a minibreak at 3-5*. But the American came back to win 9-7.

B is for @BBakestennis. Nobody knew what to expect from Brian Baker in his latest comeback from injury. Against a swashbuckler like Simone Bolelli, the most anyone hoped for out loud was that Baker could finish the match. Instead, he hung in there until the bitter end, losing 7-6(6) 7-6(3) 6-7(2) 7-6(5). His serve let him down a bit in the end, as he was unable to maintain minibreak leads he held in the first and final sets. But overall he showed his incredible instincts for the game and great shotmaking. Watch his thoughts on the match and his comebacks.

C is for CoCo. Not a great start of the year for CoCo Vandeweghe, who has yet to win a match in her first three tournaments. Against Madison Brengle she just hit her way out of the singles tournament, losing 6-3 6-4 and converting on only 1 of 10 break points.

D is for Draaaaamaaaaaa. In a head-scratcher of a late-night encounter between Jack Sock and Taylor Fritz, the older American won 6-4 3-6 0-6 6-3 6-4. First, it was moved because of the interminable Robredo/Jaziri match (won by Robredo, naturally) meaning the beginning wasn't available for watching. Then, Sock was at his flashy best in taking the first set. Then, Sock let his foot off the gas and Taylor pounced. Then that third set happened (see G, below). Then Sock gets a break in the 4th Then he rolled his ankle and was on the ground for some time and got it taped. Then he didn't face a break point the rest of the way, and secured the one break he needed in the fifth. Now he's into the second round.

E is for Eight. That's the number of American men into the Australian Open 2nd round, most since 2008, when there were 9.

F is for Four. That's the number of points won by Sock in the third set. As Fritz said post-match, Sock didn't even try to win points.

G is for Gamesmanship? So the question becomes, to what extent did Sock's performance involve that undefinable phenomenon "gamesmanship"? On the one hand, he mentioned that he has strep throat, and of course retired during his final in Auckland. And we all saw him roll his ankle and get taped ... you don't make that up. But by the end he looked absolutely fine -- fantastic, even -- and was as amped as I've ever seen him. So who knows? As Patrick McEnroe said, sometimes Sock needs a bit of drama (see D, above), even if he needs to manufacture it himself.

As for the youngster, Fritz was left shaking his head, ruing the missed opportunity. He came absolutely ready to compete but said it was tough to focus out there given all that was going on. If nothing else it's a great sign for how good he already is if indeed an opponent feels the need to resort to anything but straight-forward tennis to win. I for one am looking forward to the rematch.

H is for Harry: A disappointing main draw experience for Ryan Harrison, who fell 7-5 6-4 6-4 to Andrey Kuznetsov. The Russian was the aggressor for the match. But Harrison still qualified, a big improvement from last year when he lost to Wayne Odesnik in the first round of qualies.

I is for Inconsistent: Bethanie Mattek-Sands lost a see-saw match to Denisa Allertova 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3. Allertova served for the match in the second set but Bethanie roared back and even took an early 2*-1 break lead in the third. But ultimately, she couldn't find the court often enough and the Czech overcame.

J is for Japan: i.e. the country Naomi Osaka is representing, rather than USA. She's one of the brightest up and comers out there, and showed it by coming through qualifying and dismantling Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2. A second-round match vs fellow Haitian-heritage big hitter Victoria Duval would have been amazing, but alas that will have to wait for another day (see X, below).

K is for King the Queen: Vania King (@queen_v21) started her comeback from injury last fall but hadn't gotten any big (singles) wins. Against Mona Barthel, she went down an early break and lost the first set getting broken again. It wasn't looking good. But King capitalized on the German's less than 100% physical health and used her movement and flat strokes to take the second set 7-5. In the third, it was Barthel swinging for the fences and King trying to stay poised. King made an early break hold up, saving 2 break points to hold for 4-2* and then 3 match points in the final game to successfully serve out the match 3-6 7-5 6-4.

L is for LL: Lucky Loser Bjorn Fratangelo had no luck against 35-year-old French qualifier Stephane Robert, who handled the American 6-2 6-2 6-2.

M is for Madisons: The two Madisons, Keys and Brengle, both had their breakthrough majors last year in Melbourne. This year got off to a strong start for both, as they secured straight-set first round wins -- Brengle over the aforementioned Vandeweghe, and Keys over Zarina Diyas 7-6 6-1. The latter match featured a sketchy start from Keys, as Diyas took advantage of endless errors and served for the first set at 5*-3 40-0. But Keys fought back, and played well within herself to capture the second set and the victory.

N is for Nine. That's the number of US women who lost in the first round, compared to 8 wins. Not the best showing considering the Aussie was the best American slam in 2015: a total of 29 wins. Still better than the 2011 Australian Open, in which US women had only 3 match wins.

O is for outside courts: By far my favorite thing about the first two days of majors is the fact that you get matches like Sock/Fritz, Lepchenko/Tsurenko, Mattek-Sands/Allertova and so many more on courts that are extremely accessible to passers by.

P is for Pronunciation: Tennis names can be tough but hearing an American pronounce CoCo's last name "Vanderweigh" was a little cringeworthy.

Q is for Queen Vee: Venus Williams crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round, losing 6-4 6-2 to Johanna Konta. Just when you think she's primed to make another possible major final run, it doesn't happen. Yet still she strives, which is all you can ask.

R is for Rampras: In a great display of old-school tennis, Rajeev Ram took the first set from Kevin Anderson in a tiebreak. He lost the next set in a tiebreak but then went up a break in the third and his injured opponent couldn't keep up. Final score: 7-6(4) 6-7(4) 6-3 3-0 (ret).
S is for SMEEEEEEE!: Newly married Tim Smyczek rolled over his Spanish opponent 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-2 to reach the second round for the second straight year.

T is for thirtysomething: Ram is playing the best tennis of his career at 31. Same with Isner at 30. Spain's 9 men into the second round average over 30 years of age. As men's tennis continues to see high-level performances for players well into their mid-30s, the question for American fans is how many of its best players will have the physical wherewithal and unstinting drive to keep their careers going past where many of its past stars left the game. The answer to that question may well determine the general success of American men's tennis over the next decade.

U is for USC: Trojan Nation will be pleased with their greatest tennis star's win over British #2 Aljaz Bedene, 6-3 6-4 7-6(3), in his first slam as a seed. Next up will be the dangerous Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, who has never advanced to the third round in Oz.

V is for Varvara: It was a death match. A back-and-forth brawl in which neither player could seemingly get the upper hand. Long rallies, struggles with heat, tough holds. In the end, Varvara Lepchenko d. Lesia Tsurenko 6-7(5) 6-2 6-3 to set up a very winnable second round match against Lara Arruabarrenna.

W is for Wild Card: Stop me if you've heard this before, but she's the ultimate wild card and she lived up to the billing. A wild Samantha Crawford fell to the far more consistent Danka Kovinic 6-2 6-4, although Crawford made it interesting in the end, coming back from 1*-5 15-30 to 4-5* 30-30. But it wasn't to be. Not a huge deal as next up is Vika Azarenka, who looks like a real threat for the title.

X is for XOXO: Just great seeing Victoria Duval out there again, even if she only managed 5 games against #18 seed Elina Svitolina.

Y is for #YIMLife: I thought Donald Young would beat Santiago Giraldo, and after he took the second set 6-1 to even the match, it looked good. But Young just couldn't get his service game under control, getting broken 4 times in the last 2 sets to lose 6-4 1-6 6-3 6-2. Young has a final coming off next month in Delray Beach, so he will want to right the ship soon.

Z is for Zhang: Her grand slam futility had become legendary. 0-14, now well out of the Top 100, very close to retirement she says. Facing the world #2. Winning 6-4 6-3.

Tennis is amazing.