Monday, January 18, 2016

By the numbers: 2016 Australian Open Day 1

Day 1 of the 2016 Australian Open is in the books, and it will be remembered primarily for the BBC/Buzzfeed fixing story heard 'round the world. it was a pretty strong effort for Americans, who went 7-5 on the day. Americans notched two significant upsets while falling victim to one. Below is our by-the-numbers rundown of the good, the bad, and the beautiful.

1: Number of racquets obliterated by Benoit Paire in his 7-6 (4) 7-6 (6) 7-6 (5) loss to Noah Rubin.

(Paire was less than complimentary in his post-match comments, which Rubin will undoubtedly only use for fuel.)

2: Grand slam main draw wins for Austin Krajicek, following his 6-4 6-1 6-3 dismantling of qualifier Wu Di. His first came last year over Santiago Giraldo at the US Open. Krajicek was the first man to advance the second round on Monday.

3: Consecutive games won by Lauren Davis to close out her 1-6 6-3 6-4 upset of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova [26]. Davis' resilience was impressive considering she went down a break at 3-4* in the 3rd after a might-have-been game winner was belatedly called wide by the line judge at. Davis was already in her chair when Pavlyuchenkova called the umpire's attention to the out call; the umpire then queried the line judge who confirmed the call, and Davis had to go back out and serve at deuce, only to be broken four points later. Their court did not have Hawk-eye, which begs the question of whether the umpire (who has the final say on all line calls) actually saw the ball one way or the other, or just wasn't sure.

Davis didn't argue, and after the changeover composed herself and broke back, then held and broke again to win the match. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the win is that the break point she faced (and lost) after thinking she had won the 3-3 game was the only break point she faced in the last two sets. Davis is 5'2".

4: Nicole Gibbs' Melbourne winning streak after her 6-2 2-6 6-1 win over Klara Koukalova. The former Stanford star qualified for the Australian Open without dropping a set, and then took advantage of a nice draw to beat a player who is finding any win hard to come by. Next up is French power hitter Kiki Mladenovic [28].

5: Number of games won by Christina McHale in her 2&3 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska. Not great but a small sign of progress: in their first three matches, McHale won 1, then 2, then 4 games. Perhaps a set win is next?

6: Australian Opens won by Serena Williams. That's a lot, people. This year, she drew the #1 non-seed, Camila Giorgi, in the first round! And she's got questions about her health. But hey, she won 6-4 7-5. Looking good for #7, at least early.

7: Breaks for each player in the Irina Falconi/Anna Tatishvili match, an extremely competitive all-American affair that came down to Falconi serving it out on the second asking. The 4-6 3-6 8-6 match featured a total of 36 break points. The New Yorker's next match will be against Roberta Vinci, which should feature plenty of fun rallies given both players' love of variety and surprise.

8: Number of first and second sets won by American men on Day 1. Also the number of first and second sets played by American men on Day 1. In fact, the male Americans were close to getting through the day a perfect 12-0 in sets, but Denis Kudla's opponent retired down 6-2 6-1, and then Sam Querrey (who served up 2 sets and at 4*-5 40-15) frittered away that game (and thus the third set), then lost the fourth set handily and retired. Still: 3-1 is as just about as good a start as one can ask for, particularly on a day when no seeds played.

9: Number of consecutive games lost by Sloane Stephens in the course of her 6-3 6-3 upset at the (quick) hands of qualifier Wang Qiang. Things were looking great for Sloane, up 3-1* and with 2 break points to go up 4*-1. And then very little went right. The forehand that won her Auckland to start the year went awry and many of the good shots she was making were coming back at her. Her movement in particular was lethargic. Finally it seemed she had righted the ship, winning 3 games and 3 points to get to 3-4* 40-0 in the 2nd, but she couldn't get the break, and that was all she wrote. Frustrating, to say the least.

10: Number of American men on tap for Day 2. Yes, this is supposed to be a post about Day 1 but THAT IS A LARGE NUMBER. Last year, only 7 American men total participated in the main draw. This year, there are 10 in the bottom half alone, including 3 seeded players, and a total of 14.

8 players got in via direct entry, one via a wild card, one via protected ranking (Brian Baker), three qualified, and one was a Lucky Loser. So the question is: Is this a blip on the radar or the sign of real improvement from The Dark Days? We can't know for sure, but thinking the latter. As well as Americans did in qualifying (with 3 of 11 participants winning 3 matches), they should have even more players in the French Open and Wimbledon qualifying draws, with guys like Rubin, Tommy Paul, and Sekou Bangoura making big rankings jumps in the next few months. By this time next year, most if not all of the Top 100 Americans should still be there and signs look good for at least 2-3 more players to join them. If I'm right, last year's Wimbledon (featuring only 7 American men) may well have seen the last single-digit cadre of US men at a grand slam for the next several years.


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