Thursday, January 18, 2018

AO.4 - The Heat is On, and the Seeds Keep Falling

We're just two rounds into this Australian Open and large expanses of the women's draw are already looking the worse for wear.

As the original list of contenders has been pared down from 128 (129 if you count one very lucky loser) to 32, the list of big-time victims is already worthy of a deep-into-week-two stage of the proceedings. None of last year's AO semifinalists are in the 3rd Round, and only one of last year's quarterfinalists is still alive and kickin'. Of last year's Round of 16 participants, just three will be playing for the chance to return there in 2018. Meanwhile, three of last year's U.S. Open semifinalists lost on Day 1, and three of the final four from Wimbledon last summer have big adieu, as well, and two of the three '17 slam winners who were in the draw at the start of play can no longer say the same.

Still, most of the carnage has taken place in the Wild West-styled bottom half of the draw -- where three qualifiers, seven other unseeded women and one 15-year old make up a large portion of the sixteen remaining players -- while some level of stable genius has mostly managed to reign supreme in the top half, where top players have rolled ankles and been greatly tested, but usually found a way to survive.

Well, that was the case until Day 4, at least.

It didn't take long to get the first indication that the malady that has seen fit to virtually decimate one half of the draw might just be a contagious condition that was now ready to attack the heart of the other. All it took was Top 10er and former AO semifinalist Johanna Konta to be upset by a lucky loser.

23-year old Bannerette Bernarda Pera (#123) lost in the final round of qualifying over the weekend, and didn't get a spot in the main draw until after 1st Round play had already begun. When Russia's Margarita Gasparyan, returning from a trio of knee surgeries, pulled out with an injured shoulder, Pera was set to make her slam debut (she got a win over another Hordette, and an *actual* qualifier, in Anna Blinkova).

Still trying to find some sort of consistent run of results since her career-altering final four run in front of a home British crowd at Wimbledon last year, Konta never really had things in order on this day. Meanwhile, Pera edged ahead in key moments of both of the match's two sets. At 4-4 in the 1st, she went up love/40 on Konta's serve, got the break and then served out a 6-4 set. After getting the break for a 4-3 lead in the 2nd, she held serve and then had three MP chances on Konta's serve. The Brit managed to extend the match with a hold, but Pera finally served out the biggest win of her career on MP #5 to win 6-4/7-5. She's the first LL to reach the 3rd Round in Melbourne since 1997.

Not content with just *one* big name player falling on this day, the Tennis Gods had another surprise up their collective sleeve before the sun had set.

Looking to take another step in a slam in which she could become the first of her tennis generation to grab a third career slam crown, as well as being one of six women who began this AO with an opportunity to end it as the #1-ranked player in the world, Garbine Muguruza came to Melbourne having already retired from one match with cramps, and issued a walkover due to injury in another in the season's first two weeks. So the Spaniard surely didn't relish having to take the court in Day 4's intense heat, let alone doing so against Hsieh Su-wei and her oddball trickster strokes. But that was the Wimbledon champion's fate on this day... and she didn't handle it well.

When Muguruza did manage to get herself to the net she was usually successful, but she had a hard time finding her way around the 32-year Taiwanese vet's balls to do it. Hsieh was looking to reach the 3rd Round at a major for just the fourth time in her career, and the first time at the AO since her career-best slam result (4th Rd.) there in 2008. She grabbed a 4-2 lead in the opening set, and then won a 7-1 tie-break. In the 2nd, Hsieh again led 4-2. Down 30/40 and trying to stay in the match, Muguruza got to the net but badly fired a volley beyond the baseline to fall behind 5-2. She got a break for 5-3 a game later, then saved a MP with a mid-point attack and put-away at the net and held for 5-4. While she didn't "Mugu" away the match, it still wasn't enough to change the Spaniard's fortunes, as her forty-three unforced errors ultimately proved too much to overcome. With her last stand before her, she couldn't prevent Hsieh from serving out the match on her second attempt, winning 7-6(1)/6-4 to record her second career Top 20 win. After reaching at least the Round of 16 at all four majors in a season for the first time in her career a year ago, Muguruza begins 2018 with her worst slam result since her back-to-back 2nd Round exits in London and New York in '16.

Almost as an afterthought, the daylight hours managed to throw another big name seed onto the Melbourne trash heap, as the glorious story of '17 AO semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who reached a major final four for the first time in eighteen years a season ago, was unable to produce another headline-grabbing and heart-tugging AO sequel, falling to Fed Cup star (and early '18 personality-plus spark plug) Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who knocked off the Croat in a 6-3/6-1 match that gets the Belarusian into her first career slam 3rd Round.

And then, mercifully, the carnage stopped.

One suspects this won't be the last time such a theme persists on a given day at this slam, though. There *are* more than a week of days left to be played, after all.

=DAY 4 NOTES= player who didn't suffer a shocking fate on Thursday was Maria Sharapova. In the role of the "unseeded upstart" facing off in a revenge match with a seeded player (Anastasija Sevastova) who'd defeated her at last year's U.S. Open in her initial return to slam action, the Russian burst out of the match gate like a player who wanted to win and find shelter and shade before the *real* heat began to descend upon Melbourne Park. Seeking her third Top 20 win since her return to the tour last spring (one against Simona Halep in New York, and the other against Sevastova last fall in Beijing) Sharapova rushed through a 6-1 1st set, winning sixteen of eighteen points on serve and converting both break point opportunities against the Latvian. Sevastova, playing with her thigh wrapped, finally got into the swing of things in 2nd, and even broke Sharapova when she served for the match at 5-4 and then held for a 6-5 lead. Sharapova won the eventual tie-break 7-4 to close out the contest.

With just three former slam champions remaining in the Final 32, wouldn't you just know it that two of them will face off against each other in the 3rd Round as Sharapova's next opponent will be the '16 AO champ, a still-undefeated-in-2018 Angelique Kerber. On her 30th birthday, the German took to the court on MCA later in the afternoon under more intense heat (Novak Djokovic vs. Gael Monfils sometimes resembled an arena-style death match on "Game of Thrones" as it took place on Laver at the same time). Facing Donna Vekic, now coached by Torben Beltz, the point man during Kerber's career season two years ago, Angie handled the heat far better than most. While the slight Vekic literally turned red over the course of the short match, and likely wouldn't have been able to go three sets had she been forced to, Kerber took care of her business in an efficient 6-4/6-1 win to run her season mark to 7-0 (11-0 with Hopman Cup play).

...though her banner season-closing finish is now a few months old, Caroline Garcia is still officially on the leading edge of a glorious run. She came into Day 4 on a 14-3 combined run since late '17, but was forced to work overtime to take down Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova, who's going to be on the winning side of one these sort of matches in a slam very soon. Today, though, after staging a rally from 4-1 down to steal the opening set in a tie-break, she saw the Pastry stage a comeback of her own in the 3rd. Down an early break in the deciding set, Garcia got back on serve mid-way through and ultimately won out 6-7(3)/6-2/8-6 in 2:29.

Still operating in the shadows of this slam, Karolina Pliskova made like a thief in the day by getting on and off the court in under an hour on Hisense in the immediate aftermath of the Garcia/Vondrousova marathon that had just taken place there. After defeating one South American (Veronica Cepede Royg) in the 1st Round, Pliskova eliminated another (Beatriz Haddad Maia) today in just forty-four minutes, winning 6-1/6-1 to reach at least the 3rd Round in the fifth of her last six majors dating back to her U.S. Open final run in 2016.

...after three Ukrainians reached the 3rd Round yesterday, Lesia Tsurenko had a chance to be the historic fourth with a win today over Aga Radwanska. She found herself in position to do so, too, only to see the Polish vet put together a second successful comeback win at this AO. After winning from a set down deficit over Kristyna Pliskova two days ago, Aga once again got off to a slow start on Thursday, dropping the opening set to Tsurenko by a 6-2 score. After taking a 4-1 lead in the 2nd, then seeing the Ukrainian serve for the match at 5-4, Radwanska got the key break and then ran off five more successive games to lead 3-0 in the 3rd. She won 2-6/7-5/6-3, bettering her disappointing 2nd Round result that set the bad tone for her season a year ago after she'd previously reached at least the Round of 16 in Melbourne for six straight years (3 QF, 2 SF).

Two days ago, Andrea Petkovic talked about how under different circumstances she might have run naked through the tournament grounds to celebrate her hard-knock victory over Petra Kvitova in the 1st Round, where she took a 10-8 3rd set after the Czech had twice served for the match. Today the German claimed a 6-4 1st set over Lauren Davis, and her string of eight straight losses before the 3rd Round in majors looked set to end. But, tasked with trying to win her second straight match in Melbourne after having dropped the opening set -- Davis defeated Jana Cepelova in the 1st Round after falling behind, a win which had still only improved her record to 7-17 in her last twenty-four matches dating back to last spring -- the Bannerette... didn't lose another game in the match. The 4-6/6-0/6-0 win made the diminutive 24-year old, who picked up her maiden tour title in Auckland last January, the second unexpected U.S. woman (w/ Pera) to reach the 3rd Round.

She was later joined there by a less-surprising name, as Madison Keys continued to defy the 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist (or finalist, in her case) "curse" at this AO and will move on to the next round after her quick forty-one minute, 6-0/6-1 destruction of Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova. the night session on MCA, the mystery and worry about the condition of Simona Halep's rolled ankle proved to be unfounded. Of course, Genie Bouchard didn't exactly pressure her into having to extend herself, either.

It was a match-up of two players who met in the '14 Wimbledon semis, with the Canadian defeating the Romanian to reach her first slam on that day in London. But their careers have gone in opposite directions ever since. Halep came into the match ranked #1 in the world, while last week Bouchard fell all the way out of the Top 100 to #112.

Halep opened the match with a break of serve, and immediately went about moving well around the court and showing no true sign of the injury (she'd later say she felt the lingering pain, but simply didn't think about it). Taking the initiative and turning beautiful defense into occasionally brilliant offense, the Swarmette took the 1st set 6-2, then opened the 2nd just as she had the 1st, by breaking Bouchard's serve. This set went largely the same as the first, and Halep won going away by a 6-2/6-2 score.

She'll now get two days off, and forty-eight additional hours to get her ankle in an even better state. night after Gavrilova's "Dasha Show" ended it's run at this AO, it was "Barty Party" time again. Ash Barty staged a comeback from a set down to win her 1st Round match under the lights against Aryna Sabalenka, and on Thursday the young Aussie did the same thing against another excitable opponent, an in-form-early-in-2018 Camila Giorgi.

The Italian, after failing to serve out the 1st set at 5-3, got the break back at 6-5 and served out the set on her second try for a 7-5 win. In the 2nd, it was Barty who couldn't serve out the set at 5-3, only to break back a game later and knot the match. In the 3rd, finally and to the delight of a crowd now seemingly getting used to these late first week/early second week runs by Aussie women in Melbourne -- be she named Casey, Jelena, Dasha or Ash -- Barty began to pull away. She got an early break for 2-0, and then coasted over the finish line with a 5-7/6-4/6-1 win to reach the 3rd Round for the second straight year. doubles, Kiki Mladenovic proved today that she CAN still win a match. Of course, Timea Babos has to take some of the credit for the 1st Round win over the duo of Knoll/Dzalamidze. Babos & Mladenovic won three tour titles as a pair in 2015 before the Pastry began to team with Fed Cup partner Caroline Garcia in preparation for the '16 Olympics. It proved to be a fruitful partnership, producing a Roland Garros title and a U.S. Open final before, well, you know.

And a day after both Dashas were ejected from the women's singles draw, they joined forces on Day 4... and were eliminated from doubles, as well. The Dashas Gavrilova & Kasatkina went out 6-4/6-1 at the hands of Jennifer Brady & Vania King. It's Kings' first win since Miami last year, as last week she lost in the 1st Round in Sydney (w/ Anna-Lena Groenefeld) in her return to action following '17 ankle surgery.

...meanwhile, the expected girls singles seeds (no Marta Kostyuk, who said -- with glee -- that she's now finished with the junior tour)...

1. Wang Xinyu, CHN
2. Liang En-shuo, TPE
3. Simona Waltert, SUI
4. Maria Lourdes Carle, ARG
5. Naho Sato, JPN
6. Joanna Garland, TPE
7. Alexa Noel, USA
8. Nika Radisic, SLO
9. Wang Xiyu, CHN
10. Lulu Sun, SUI
11. Yuki Naito, JPN
12. Elysia Bolton, USA
13. Daniela Vismane, LAT
14. Zheng Qinwen, CHN
15. Yasmine Mansouri, FRA
16. Kamilla Rakhimova, RUS

...LATE NIGHT ON DAY 3: "The Dasha Show" was cancelled, at nearly 2 a.m. in Melbourne.

Elise Mertens came back from 5-0 down in the 1st, saving eight set points, to win 7-5/6-3.

...ALSO CANCELLED A LITTLE EARLIER ON NIGHT 3: Julia Goerges' 15-match winning streak...

...LIKE ON DAY 4: Jamie Hampton, still out there...

...LIKE ON DAY 4: Tim Tams... yum.

Although, I like the original version Tim Tams best, so I'd actually go for the banana.

...REMEMBER WHEN...? ON DAY 4: The old WTA Championships was such a great event at Madison Square Garden in New York?

...and, finally... a few awards:

ZOMBIE QUEEN: Caroline Wozniacki (of course)

UPSET QUEENS: Ukraine gets the nod, as Marta Kostyuk (def. #25 Peng) and Kateryna Bondarenko (def. #15 Pavlyuchenkova) join Svitolina in the Final 32, just one body short of matching the draw-leading four placed there by the Czechs.

REVELATION LADIES: A tough one here. The U.S., after a horrid start, nearly put on a winning run with surprise 3rd Round berths from Pera and Davis (if Gibbs had won her match, we might have seen the very first Poor Souls/Revelation Ladies combo in Backspin history). Meanwhile, Croatia was a converted MP (Fett vs. Wozniacki) away from taking it, as well, since Martic had already reached the 3rd Round, and even the Croat-born Bannerette Pera *could* be counted here in a pinch. Elsewhere, if Sevastova had again knocked off Sharapova in a major then the Baltic region's Core Four (from Latvia & Estonia) would have been a mighty award-worthy force, but since Latvian Thunder will remain a one-woman national show at this slam I suppose I'll go with Estonia in a stand-alone honor. Both Kontaveit and Kanepi remain in the draw. Naturally, Ostapenko will face Kontaveit in the 3rd Round, with the winner possibly facing off with Kanepi in the Round of 16.

4...CZE (Allertova,Ka.Pliskova,Safarova,Strycova)
3...UKR (K.Bondarenko,Kostyuk,Svitolina)
3...USA (Davis,Keys,Pera)
2...EST (Kanepi,Kontaveit)
2...FRA (Cornet,Garcia)
2...POL (Linette,A.Radwanska)
2...ROU (A.Bogdan, Halep)
1...AUS (Barty)
1...BEL (Mertens)
1...BLR (Sasnovich)
1...CRO (Martic)
1...DEN (Wozniacki)
1...ESP (Suarez-Navarro)
1...GER (Kerber)
1...JPN (Osaka)
1...LAT (Ostapenko)
1...NED (Bertens)
1...RUS (Sharapova)
1...SVK (Rybarikova)
1...THA (Kumkhum)
1...TPE (S.Hsieh)
Western Europe & Scandinavia: 15
Russia & Eastern Europe: 10
Asia/Pacific: 4
North America/Atlantic: 3
South America: 0
Africa/Middle East: 0

2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2013 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2014 Li Na, CHN
2015 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2016 Monica Puig, PUR
2017 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2018 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

2004 Hungary
2005 Russia
2006 Spain
2007 Czech Republic
2008 Russia
2009 France
2010 Russia
2011 Russia
2012 Russia
2013 Russia
2014 Australia
2015 Germany
2016 Russia
2017 United States
2018 Ukraine

2006 Italy
2007 Belarus
2008 Poland
2009 Kazakhstan
2010 Germany
2011 Czech Republic
2012 Germany
2013 United States
2014 Romania
2015 France
2016 China
2017 Australia
2018 Estonia

2002 (Week 1 POW) Martina Hingis, SUI
2003 (Week 1 POW) Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 (Week 1 co-POW) Kim Clijsters, BEL & Justine Henin, BEL *
2005 (Week 1 POW) Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2006 (Week 1 POW) Amelie Mauresmo, FRA *
2007 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS *
2009 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Kim Clijsters, BEL *
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR *
2013 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN
2016 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2018 Angelique Kerber, GER
* - won title

2008 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic (QF)
2010 Samantha Stosur (4th Rd.)
2011 Samantha Stosur (3rd Rd.)
2012 C.Dellacqua, J.Dokic, O.Rogowska (2nd)
2013 Samantha Stosur (2nd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2015 C.Dellacqua, J.Gajdosova, S.Stosur,A.Tomljanovic (2nd)
2016 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2017 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2018 Ash Barty (in 3rd Rd.)

2006 US: Nicole Pratt, AUS (2nd)
2006 RG: Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (2nd)
2007 WI: Alize Cornet, FRA (2nd)
2008 US: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 RG: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 WI: Kristina Kucova, SVK (2nd)
2010 RG: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (2nd)
2011 WI: Stephanie Dubois, CAN (2nd)
2012 RG: Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ (2nd)
2013 US: Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, AUT (2nd)
2014 AO: Irina Falconi, USA (2nd)
2015 US: Daria Kasatkina, RUS (3rd)
2016 WI: Duan Yingying, CHN (2nd)
2017 RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN (3rd)
2018 AO: Bernarda Pera, USA [into 3rd Rd.]

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #21 Angelique Kerber/GER
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Andrea Petkovic/GER def. Petra Kvitova/CZE 6-3/4-6/10-8 (Petko up 4-0 in 3rd, 3 MP saved by Kvitova; Kvitova for match at 6-5 and 8-7)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: USA (women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches, go 1-9 on Day 1, 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open all-Bannerette semifinalists ousted)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Allertova, Kostyuk, Kumkhum; (LL: Pera)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Ash Barty (in 3rd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominee: Pera
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk ("Teen")
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (2nd Rd. - Fett/CRO served up 5-1, 40/15 in 3rd set; 2 MP saved)

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AO.3 - Two Sides of the Dane

And on Day 3, we saw both sides of the Dane.

"Two sides of the coin to choose from,
Two sides of the coin, they are mine
Two sides of the coin, I'm gettin' weary
Which one should I choose, I need time"

- "Two Sides of the Coin"
Ace Frehley (Kiss), Unmasked album, 1980

In her 2nd Round match with 21-year old, #119-ranked Croat Jana Fett, #2-seeded Caroline Wozniacki once again displayed the oft-troubling tendency to slide back into bad (unaggressive) habits. It very nearly cost her the match, too, in what was just her opponent's second career slam main draw match (it was #144 for Caro). But right when her prospects seemed to be their darkest, the dawn of Wozniacki's 2018 Australian Open arrived. That was when she called upon her far superior experience to gradually reel back from the precipice a match that seemed beyond lost into the crevasse of early-round slam flameouts. Once Wozniacki had Fett's back against the wall, she utilized her longstanding defensive abilities, metronomic ball-striking skills and stroke accuracy as an ultimate weapon to survive and live another round in Melbourne.

Early on, though, it was Fett who controlled the flow and direction of the match. The 2014 AO girls runner-up was dictating play with her power, and serving big. Meanwhile, Wozniacki spent the 1st set seemingly forgetting about the more forward, aggressive style of play that has allowed her to rise back up the rankings (though, listening to ESPN's Chris Evert and Jason Goodall, you'd think that it was Wozniacki's relationship with fiance David Lee that had done the trick... and that the installation-to-great-success-and-then-sudden-exit of assistant coach/hitting partner extraordinaire Sascha Bajin didn't even exist as a compelling component in her recent tennis storyline). Falling back into her old, too-far-behind-the-baseline habits, Wozniacki allowed Fett the chance to control her own fate. She broke the Dane to open the match and never lost form in the 1st set. Serving down 5-3, Wozniacki fell behind love/40, then threw in a backhand error to end the set after just thirty-three minutes.

But rather than dig in her heels and stubbornly go down in defeat, Wozniacki's 2nd set moment of truth presented her with the chance to show that she *could* diagnose her difficulties and change course. In the aftermath of dropping the 1st, she began to move forward and take balls earlier. She broke Fett for a 2-1 lead, then again for 4-1. When she briefly once again began to hold back she saw the Croat break serve and spark to life again at 4-2. But the more aggressive stance immediately returned a game later and Wozniacki went on to take the set 6-2.

But rather than go away herself, Fett stood up. Not holding back, she regained control of the match in the 3rd. Hitting and serving big, she pressured the off-once-again game of Wozniacki into producing more errors. She broke for 3-1, then held to take a 4-1 lead against the ever-more-frustrated Dane.

Wozniacki's fifth double-fault of the match broke own serve and she was down 5-1, Fett took a 40/15 lead on serve and held double match point. And then she finally started to show her nerves. Fett continued to go for big first serves, but now she started missing them. Her deep groundstrokes started landing shorter in the court, and Wozniacki began to take advantage.

It was here where the Dane's experience advantage truly took hold. With the Croat starting to resemble the big stage newcomer she is, Wozniacki knew she still had a chance to wiggle free from almost-sure defeat. She knew what she needed to do, too. Hit the ball deep in the court to prevent Fett's power from bailing her out of a rally, and try to never fire a ball outside the lines. Luckily for Wozniacki, she's always been expert at both. Her accuracy and ability to extend rallies and hit shot after shot after shot after shot, while it sometimes lulls *her* into a form of complacency and unwillingness to break pattern with a spark of aggression and leads to big-hitting opponents seizing their opportunity to hit her off the court, served her well here. While she did choose her moments to go for her own shots, Wozniacki rightly recognized an opponent that she could finally wear down in the closing games, waiting for the errors that now would almost surely eventually come off her racket.

The Dane got the break for 5-2, and you could feel the match teetering on the edge. She held at love for 5-3, was the benefit of a bit of luck when she mishit a return at 30/30 a game later and Fett fired a down the line forehand wide. Another break made it 5-4, followed by another hold from Wozniacki to pull even at 5-5. It was like a slow motion car wreck, and you were suddenly fairly secure in the notion that it was going to be the Dane who'd survive with nary a scratch.

With Fett desperately trying to avoid falling victim to a loss in the old, my-lead-is-never-safe-no-matter-how-big tradition of the late, great(est) Jana [Novotna], the Croat found herself in a now-or-never rally with the Dane that lasted twenty-six shots. As usual, Wozniacki refused to miss, and it was an error from Fett that lost the point, putting her down 15/30. A few points later, a double-fault handed the break and the match lead to the world #2. She then served things out for a 3-6/6-2/7-5 comeback win that may (or may not) prove to live on to be a B-I-G story well into the *second* week of this Australian Open.


(And *now* you know Jana Fett's name, too.) ;)

...Day 3 began with a trio of Ukrainians, each from a different tennis generation and the only from their nation to have been crowned a junior slam singles champ, taking center stage on the tournament's three show courts.

On Hisense, veteran Kateryna Bondarenko, the 2004 Wimbledon girls winner, took down Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2/6-3 as the Russian finally posted the aforementioned-in-this-space, and now-hardly-shocking disappointing result that was likely always going to be her inevitable fate at this slam. She'd managed to avoid it two days ago via a 3rd set comeback win in the 1st Round. But, here it is, anyway. So, one year after she completed a Career QF Slam with a final eight run in Melbourne, Pavlyuchenkova exits before the 3rd Round for the twenty-sixth time in forty-one appearances in majors.

On MCA, the reigning Australian Open girls champ continued her assault on the tennis record books. Already having become the first player born in 2002 to appear in a slam MD after making her way through qualifying, then winning her 1st Round match over the seeded Peng Shuai to become the youngest woman to win an AO match since 1996 (Martina Hingis), Marta Kostyuk put up yet another win over Aussie wild card Olivia Rogowska. The 15-year old immediately grabbed an early lead in the 1st, took the set and led 3-1 in the 2nd. Rogowska got things even at 4-4, but Kostyuk pulled away with late break to secure the 6-3/7-5 win. Kostyuk, whose mother played on tour in the 1990's, is the youngest to reach a slam 3rd Round since 1997.

Naturally, she'll face off with yet another Ukrainian. In fact, it'll be the most successful one ever: Elina Svitolina, the 2010 Roland Garros junior champion and the unlikely "betting favorite" at this AO despite having never reached a slam SF and imploding last spring in Paris when she got close. At Laver Arena, Svitolina had her hands full against talented but inconsistent Katerina Siniakova, the young Czech she'd needed three sets to defeat in the 1st Round of last year's U.S. Open.

Cleanly striking balls and showing the promise she often flashes, Siniakova broke Svitolina's serve for a 4-3 lead, and served for the set at 5-4. Svitolina, playing with somewhat less aggression than one would like, saved a set point but couldn't put away a pair of break chances in the game (making her 0-for-6 in the set), and Siniakova held on a long error from the Ukrainian on SP #2, taking the set 6-4.

In something of a reversal of expected fortunes, Svitolina was suddenly the one throwing up her hands in exasperation while Siniakova maintained a calm demeanor. Of course, all that didn't last long. Svitolina finally got her first break of serve on her seventh BP chance of the day, taking a 2-0 lead, and then held serve a game later in a five-deuce game, saving three BP of her own. Siniakova took a medical timeout down 5-2, and once she returned the momentum of the match, already turned against her, was unalterable. The newly-established tone of the match carried until the finish as Siniakova's game became less reliable and Svitolina grabbed total control, winning 4-6/6-2/6-1. player who won't be joining Svitolina or the other Ukrainians in the 3rd Round is Belinda Bencic. Yep. After putting up results like a house on fire for months, and looking like the fully-formed potential slam contender she was thought to about to become two years ago when she took out Venus Williams in straight sets in the 1st Round, the Swiss was run out of this AO in short order today by Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum. Never really in the match, Bencic went out 6-1/6-3 in maybe the most confounding result yet at this opening slam of the season.

Of course, Kumkhum, though she's never ranked higher than #85 and had never before reached a slam 3rd Round until today, is one of those players who have a knack for pulling off big stage upsets like this. She's even pulled off a more consequential shocker than this one in Melbourne, knocking out then-#6-seeded Petra Kvitova in the sweltering heat of the 1st Round in 2014.

...somewhat quietly, in the wake of Bencic's loss and Wozniacki's escape, Dasha Kasatkina followed up her first career slam Round of 16 result in New York with a straight sets 2nd Round AO upset at the hands of an injured Magda Linette (ankle), falling 7-6(4)/6-2.

Soon after, in a match highlighted by short rallies and many breaks of serve, Alona Ostapenko did what she does. Again.

Essentially, she points at a spot on the distant horizon and nonchalantly tells her opponent, "I'm going *there*. It might not always be pretty, but I'm going to pummel you with everything I can get my hands on, and it's gonna hurt." Then she flashes one of her wicked Thunder smiles and turns on her heels, saying, "Now try and f-ing stop me," as she marches toward the baseline. For many opponents, it proves to be too much to handle. Eventually, that was the case today for Duan Yingying.

Ostapenko fell behind an early break against Duan. But, as she has a tendency to do, Latvian Thunder simply played her game and things started to go her way. She got the break back, took her own break advantage and then served out the 1st set at 6-3. Duan broke for a 4-2 lead in the 2nd, only to see Ostapenko immediately get the break back, only to drop serve again (whew!) and see her Chinese opponent take the set 6-3. In the 3rd, Ostapenko led 4-1 and things seemed to have settled down, but the then tide briefly turned again as Duan got things back on serve at 4-3 before the 20-year old finished off a 6-3/3-6/6-4 win. She's now reached at least the 3rd Round at five straight majors after having lost in the 1st Round at all four in 2016.

...the doubles kicked off today, and Sloane Stephens couldn't win there, either. She and Genie Bouchard, who teamed to reach the Washington doubles final *before* Stephens' great North American roll in singles last summer, fell 6-4/6-4 to #2-seeded Elena Vesnina & Ekaterina Makarova. The Russians are seeking an AO crown to complete their big event doubles title collection, having already won at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, WTA Finals and the Olympics. They'd be the first women's pair to ever claim all six titles.

(In case you were wondering, Venus & Serena have won five of the six, but never a season-ending championships crown.)

Other top seeds posting wins today included #1 Latisha Chan & Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova and #4 Lucie Safarova & Barbora Strycova. Safarova is trying to defend the '17 AO title she won with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Incidentally, BMS said on ESPN the other day that her rehab is going well and that she's aiming for a March return. long as they remain in the draw, expect the AO night session schedule to continue to trade off "Dasha Show" and "Barty Party" episodes. Tonight, one night after Ash Barty's 1st Round win, Dasha Gavrilova takes her turn in a 2nd Rounder on Laver against Hobart champ Elise Mertens. On MCA, Julia Goerges will try to extend her winning streak to sixteen matches against Alize Cornet.

...NOT THAT ESPN'S ON-AIR COVERAGE CARED ON NIGHT 2: Too busy showing uncompetitive men's matches to even both to do live look-ins to prove that the night schedule was something other than an only-straight-sets-allowed-here boondoggle.

...LATE UPDATE FROM DAY 2: And so it goes... 15. And counting.

In the live rankings following the 1st Round, Mladenovic was still ranked at a new career high of #9 (up because of CoCo's big points hit and Konta being only one round into matching her QF run of '17). But that'll change soon if Kiki doesn't first, as the defense of all four of her '17 finals (and one title) will take place before the end of the spring schedule.

...LIKE ON DAY 3: They just keep coming, don't they?

...LIKE ON DAY 3: As always...

...and, finally... no, it's not the traditional U.S. Open "New York Groove" time, but I'm surely not going to turn down an opportunity to listen to an Ace Frehley song from an old Kiss album. [Side Note: I think I just figured out my "And, finally..." theme for this year's Open.]

2008 Jessica Moore, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic, AUS (QF)
2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
2011 J.Dokic/AUS, C.Garcia/FRA & A.Molik/AUS (2nd)
2012 Casey Dellacqua/AUS & Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd)
2013 Madison Keys, USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua, AUS (4th Rd.)
2015 K-C.Chang/TPE, O.Dodin/FRA & I.Falconi/USA (2nd)
2016 Han Xinyun, CHN (2nd Rd.)
2017 Ash Barty, AUS (3rd Rd.)
2018 Olivia Rogowska, AUS (2nd Rd.)

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: USA (women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches, go 1-9 on Day 1, 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open all-Bannerette semifinalists ousted)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Allertova(W), Kostyuk(W), Kumkhum(W) (LL: Pera)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Barty, Gavrilova, Rogowska(L)
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk ("Teen")
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Wozniacki (2r - Fett served up 5-1, 40/15 in 3rd set); Puig (1r - Stosur MP in 2nd set); Halep (1r - down 5-2 and 2 SP in 1st set vs. Aiava, rolls ankle in 2nd set); Petkovic (1r - Kvitova twice served for match; won 10-8 in 3rd); Pera (LL wins first career slam MD match)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

AO.2 - Have You Seen This Woman?


Be advised. There has been a Kerbernator sighting on the Australian Open grounds.

Proceed with caution, and advance at your own risk.

Finally, after her long season of discontent, a campaign in which her game failed to consistently fire for long and she could never quite rediscover that spark that had so recently lifted her to the greatest heights of her career, Angelique Kerber was back where it all started twenty-four months ago. On Day 2, the 2016 Australian Open champion, unlike her experience in Melbourne a year ago, emerged unscathed to live another day, her roll undisturbed and her early '18 fortunes still burning bright.

Two years ago, Kerber stared down a match point against Misaki Doi in the AO 1st Round, then went on to win the title, setting the stage for a career year. Last January she was upset in the 1st Round by Lesia Tsurenko, setting the stage for her historic fall over the course of '17, as she dropped all the way from #1 to #22, the biggest non-injury/retirement related slip for a year-end #1 over the course of the following season in tour history.

The omens are more in the German's favor this time around.

Even with the current #1 player in the world, last year's tour title leader, the player with the longest active tour-level winning streak (as well as the player with the longest overall winning run) all lifting championship trophies during the first two weeks of '18, and another singles title being successfully defended, there has arguably been *no* player in better form than Kerber. Undefeated at 9-0 (4-0 in Hopman Cup play, and 5-0 in her first title run in sixteen months in Sydney), the only player to defeat Belinda Bencic since last October (a 6-4/6-1 win in the WS part of the Hopman final), back in the Top 20, and last week a winner of a pair of back-to-back matches in which she dropped the 1st set (after being 3-22 in those situations last season), Kerber arrives at this slam having been tested in nearly every way imaginable over the course of the short two-week stretch to begin the season.

Facing off today against fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam (coming back from a shoulder injury, and maybe best remembered for her near-upset of Aga Radwanska in the AO Round of 16 two years ago before being felled by cramps), for a set and a half, Kerber looked every bit the player who has buzzed through a long list of opponents in the season's opening weeks. She dropped just one point on serve while taking the 1st set at love, and led 4-1 in the 2nd. At that point, Friedsam finally found her footing and made Kerber work a bit more as she leveled the score at 4-4. But after a handful of squandered chances, Kerber finaly got the break for 5-4 and served out the match, converting her second MP to record her first victory in Melbourne since defeating Serena Williams two years ago to claim her maiden slam crown.

With her streak at ten match wins in a row, next up for Kerber is Croatia's Donna Vekic. Nothing is guaranteed for the German over the next two weeks, but nothing is off the table, either.

So, you know... beware.

...if Monday, when six (mostly big-name) seeds fell, resembled a day "in a hurry" and was ready, willing and able to wreak havoc with the women's draw, Tuesday was content with merely flirting with danger, only to pull itself back from the edge before things reached an official "eve of destruction."

Day 2 immediately proved to be something of a turnaround point for the Bannerettes one day after the U.S. women went 1-9 and saw three-fourths of last year's U.S. Open semifinalists sent packing. Today, lucky loser Bernarda Pera (in for an injured Margarita Gasparyan) was the first player to advance to the 2nd Round, defeating Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2/6-2. Pera jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and never looked back. She's the first LL to post a 1st Round win in Melbourne since Irina Falconi in 2014. It's been twenty one years since such a run was extended another round Down Under (Sandra Kleinova in 1997), but Ons Jabeur *did* do just that last year in Paris after getting her own second chance opportunity in the Roland Garros MD.

Pera will next face Johanna Konta, who destroyed Pera's countrywoman Madison Brengle, winning 6-3/6-1 and firing off thirty-seven winners in the match's sixteen games.

While Pera's day-starting win alleviated a bit of the remaining pressure created by the series of Bannerette failures yesterday, the results of the rest of the day for the U.S. women were decidedly spotty. Madison Keys managed to avoid the U.S. Open semifinalist curse imposed at this AO by becoming the only of the four Bannerettes who reached the SF at Flushing Meadows last summer to advance to the 2nd Round at this slam, but she had to battle back from a 5-2 2nd set deficit in order to take out Wang Qiang in straight sets.

But that was where the good news ended.

Varvara Lepchenko looked as if she might upset Anastasija Sevastova, but the Latvian pushed the match to a 3rd set and won it. Shelby Rogers, too, had a big win within her grasp. She pushed '17 AO semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to 3rd set, but couldn't get past the 35-year old Croat. Other Bannerettes who fell on Day 2 included Christina McHale and Kristie Ahn.

With the U.S. women standing at a combined 3-14, only Lauren Davis (vs. Jana Cepelova) has yet to complete her 1st Round match in an attempt to join Keys, Pera and Nicole Gibbs in the 2nd Round.

...after a bit of a shaky start, Caroline Garcia got her AO off to a winning start. Carina Witthoeft served for the 1st set at 5-4 against the Frenchwoman, but after getting the break Garcia ran off a string of six additional games to take a 7-5/4-0 lead before ultimately taking the 2nd set 6-3. The Pastry has reached at least the 3rd Round at the last five majors, as well as in two of her last three trips to Melbourne.

While her name was on the tip of everyone's tongue at the start of multiple slams in '17 following her 2016 U.S. Open final appearance, the buzz around Karolina Pliskova is not quite as loud as this AO begins even after she put up her most consistent slam season a year ago (w/ a SF and two QF). Not that the twin is one to show any outward signs of not withstanding pressure, but being a bit on the down-low when it comes to people discussing her title hopes is still probably a checkmark in the Czech's column for this opening major of '18. One of six women with a chance to finish this slam in the #1 ranking, Pliskova began her own personal quest by defeating Veronica Cepede Royg 6-4/6-3.

Pliskova was one of a slew of Czechs who advanced to the 2nd Round today after winning in their first-up matches at the start of the day. The group of Maidens included Lucie Safarova (in her first outing since failing to convert that MP vs. Angelique Kerber in the 1st Round in Sydney), Barbora Strycova and Marketa Vondrousova.

...while Kerber made her winning return to Melbourne today, Maria Sharapova was back for the first time in two years, contesting a match on MCA in her first AO outing since her failed drug test following her QF loss to Serena Williams in 2016. A few days after reawakening the ire of the I-don't-care-if-she-served-out-her-punishment-I'll-never-let-it-go-until-my-dying-day crowd by being included in the draw ceremony with Roger Federer-er-er-er-er -- granted, it was an odd choice by the organizers, but there would honestly be few who'd even come close to being the star-power equal of RF, so deal with it -- the Russian got about to getting things done between the lines in a match-up with Tatjana Maria (yeah, so the scoreboard read "Sharapova vs. Maria"... a nice chuckle courtesy of the Tennis Gods, who may or may not have been trying to deliver some sort of subconscious message in the odd occurrence -- they've refused to answer any of the questions sent their way from Backspin HQ).

After winning the opening set 6-1, Sharapova's error count begin to climb in the 2nd as Maria settled into the big stage surroundings. The German led 3-1 before Sharapova tightened things up and finished off the win.

...while Sloane Stephens couldn't stop her losing streak on Day 1, Genie Bouchard *did* manage to end her own skid, and may have just gotten a big gift from the Tennis Gods, as well. More on that in a moment.

It was four years ago that Bouchard had her breakout slam in Melbourne, reaching the AO semifinals in a season in which she'd reach another slam semi and the Wimbledon final, then climb as high as #5 in the rankings. The Canadian came into this slam ranked outside the Top 100, and might need to post a few impressive results to avoid having her position as the top-ranked player in her nation challenged by one or more younger countrywomen later this spring or summer. On a six-match losing streak (not including her 0-3 mark in the Hopman Cup), and with a 3-13 mark beginning with her Madrid QF loss last spring after having won matches over Sharapova and Kerber earlier in the week, Bouchard took the 1st set from Oceane Dodin today, then avoided what might have become a sticky 3rd set by taking out the Pastry in the 2nd set TB to win 6-3/7-6(5). Bouchard hit twelve aces in the match and held a 29/24 edge in W/UE.

So, what is the gift Bouchard might have received? Well, frankly, that her next opponent is Simona Halep. Not because of any deficiencies in the #1-ranked player in the world, as the Romanian put on a gritty performance today against 17-year old Aussie wild card Destanee Aiava, but because one has to wonder if an ankle injury she suffered during the match might turn out to be as significant as was initially feared despite the fact that she literally got up off the court and finished off her opponent in straight sets this afternoon in Melbourne.

Make no mistake, Halep should be proud of what she did today. Against a great deal of adversity, she never lost her head, heart or guile on the Laver Arena court. She faced down a huge-hitting opponent who got on top of her and grabbed a big 1st set lead, found her way after a long injury break from the teenager, saving a handful of set points and ultimately stealing the opening stanza, then pulling out the match after badly rolling her ankle and seeming to be on the verge of possibly abandoning the match as the intense pain she was in was plainly visible on her face.

Having dropped her last two 1st Round matches in Melbourne, Halep already had a major mental hurdle to clear before today's match had even started. Though she's been sporting a lightness of spirit and a high level of confidence after sweeping the titles in Shenzhen in Week 1, Halep needed to prove (mostly to herself, maybe) that she wasn't snakebit at this event, especially not in her first slam as the world #1.

The powerful Aiava didn't make things easy, and she looked like a possible upset-maker in the 1st set. She broke for 3-1 and 4-2 leads, and managed to save a handful of BP to hold in a 15-minute game for 5-2. But it was then that she called for a trainer, and eventually was led off the court for ten minutes. When play resumed, Halep served to stay in the set, and had to save two SP before holding for 5-3. A bit lost in the moment (maybe it was the long break, maybe it was the occasion), Aiava lost track of the match score after that game and thought it was time for a changeover break. Wandering around the court for the next few games with an expression that surely didn't look as if it belonged to a player *leading* the match, Aiava's errors increased. Halep held on, and put in a series of big first serves to get back on serve at 5-5, then managed to edge out the Aussie to win a 7-5 TB and steal away with a 1st set win.

Early in the 2nd, though, one point after pulling up and hitting the back of her thigh, Halep stretched for a ball behind the baseline and turned her left ankle. She went down quickly and clutched at her leg. It looked bad, and the video of the incident backed up the feeling.

Halep was taped up and continued to play, though. While favoring the ankle, she was able to run and move around the court. She took a 3-0 lead, kept Aiava at bay and put the match away 7-6(5)/6-1 to notch her first AO win since 2015. Afterward, she admitted to being in the dark about how bad her injury might be, noting that it was still warm and she didn't yet feel it. Even a good diagnosis is going to include a lot of work to get her ready for a 2nd Round match with Bouchard, and beyond. One wants to believe she'll find a way to keep going, but then you see that video and just how far over her ankle was rolled and it makes one wonder if further examination might reveal an injury extensive enough to prematurely end her AO.

(Fingers crossed.) the start of the night session neared, Day 2 had yet to see a women's seed ejected from the draw despite quite a few close calls. It looked as if that was all going to change as Petra Kvitova's return to Melbourne seemed set to end the way so many had in the past, with a devastating defeat. Then, fortunes changed and Kvitova looked to be ready to stage a successful Houdini act... until she couldn't quite escape her fate.

Andrea Petkovic won the 1st set, only to see the Czech go up 5-4 in the 2nd and push things into a 3rd. The German led 4-0 there, and held three MP (two in a row), only to see Kvitova find a way out of the deep hole. She battled back and eventually found herself serving for the match at 6-5, but fell behind 15/40 and then double-faulted two points later as the score was knotted at 6-6. Three games later, Kvitova got the break to get a second chance to serve out the match at 8-7, only to fail to do so and drop serve yet again. Finally, Petko did the honor, breaking Kvitova to get the win that she nearly let slip away, 6-3/4-6/10-8, as the Czech DF'd on the German's final MP.

While it's sad to see Petra sent away so early, it's nice to see such an effort from Petkovic. This has to be one of her biggest wins in quite some time.

...still to come on Tuesday as of the posting of this update: Kristina Mladenovic (with 14 straight losses, she'll face Ana Bogdan) will see if she'll join the Stephens or Bouchard camp when it comes to trying to end a long losing streak, Aga Radwanska will try to get past a Pliskova (Krystina), Garbine Muguruza's true condition (after a retirement and walkover in the first two weeks of '18) may finally be revealed under the lights on MCA, and one night after the successful first episode of "The Dasha Show" proved to be a predictable one, another "Barty Party" will break out on Laver as Aussie Ash goes up against Aryna Sabalenka in what could be an excitable night-ending face-off.

...LIKE ON DAY 2: When you win on Day 1...

...and, finally... a flashback to Jelena Dokic's heartwarming AO quarterfinal run of 2009:

2012 GBR (0-4 1st Rd.; all on Day 1)
2013 AUS (1-6 in 1st Rd., 1-7 overall)
2014 ITA (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st)
2015 CHN (year after Li champ, 1-5 in 1st Round)
2016 AUS (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd is a Brit)
2017 ROU (2-4 1st Loss, 1st Seed Out, 3 Top 32 defeats)
2018 USA (lost first 8 matches, 1-9 on Day 1; 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open SF ousted)

2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2009 Venus Williams, USA (2nd Rd.)
2010 Maria Sharapova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (2nd Rd.)
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st Rd.)
2013 Samantha Stosur, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE (1st Rd.)
2015 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2016 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2017 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2018 Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (1st Rd. - all '17 U.S. Open SF)

2006 US: Nicole Pratt, AUS (2nd)
2006 RG: Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (2nd)
2007 WI: Alize Cornet, FRA (2nd)
2008 US: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 RG: Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd)
2009 WI: Kristina Kucova, SVK (2nd)
2010 RG: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (2nd)
2011 WI: Stephanie Dubois, CAN (2nd)
2012 RG: Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ (2nd)
2013 US: Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, AUT (2nd)
2014 AO: Irina Falconi, USA (2nd)
2015 US: Daria Kasatkina, RUS (3rd)
2016 WI: Duan Yingying, CHN (2nd)
2017 RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN (3rd)
2018 AO: Bernarda Pera, USA [into 2nd Rd.]
Most Recent AO 3rd Rd.: Sandra Kleinova, CZE (1997)

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: USA (women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches, go 1-9 on Day 1, 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open all-Bannerette semifinalists ousted)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Allertova, Kostyuk, Kumkhum (LL: Pera)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Rogowska
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Into 2nd Rd.: Gavrilova, Rogowska
IT (TBD): xx
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Sh.Zhang (1r - Stephens served for match at 5-4 in 2nd set); Puig (1r - Stosur MP in 2nd set); Halep (1r - down 5-2 and 2 SP in 1st set vs. Aiava, turns ankle in 2nd set); Petkovic (1r - Kvitova twice served for match; won 10-8 in 3rd)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.