By Jane Voigt
Not that we’re bored with mens’ singles. Who could be bored watching matches extend beyond five hours and upsets teeter totter in front of 17,000 fans at the Rod Laver Arena? No one.
But different tennis competition should be considered and watched, too. The ones played by women. They come from countries strewn worldwide. But America and Australia are the ones that bemoan their sad state of tennis affairs, which is short-sighted.
First of all, Serena Williams quarterfinal match with Sloan Stephens late Wednesday afternoon is promoted as a must-see event. Williams, possibly the best woman’s player ever, mentors Stephens … a sure bet for future stardom.
Stephens was not seeded in 2012, her first trip Down Under. This year she’s seeded #29. Her drive through to the quarterfinals should be replicated frequently if she remains dedicated and healthy.
Other America women glow with hope, too, meaning that the grassroots development for them is on a roll.
Sloane Stephens, Jamie Hampton and Madison Keys proved their worth this week.
Hampton had Victoria Azarenka, seeded #1, on the ropes until her back weakened. But Hampton did not retire; she battled through three sets and gained a tremendous amount of respect from fans and players.
As a wildcard in her second appearance at the Australian Open, Madison Keys first showed Australian Casey Dellacqua the door — although she remains alive in doubles. Then Madison defeated Tamira Paszek, the #30 seed, 62 61. A forceful statement from the 17-year-old American.
Dellacqua, though, had gained a wildcard entry with partner, and 16-year-old fellow Aussie, Ashleigh Barty into women’s doubles.
Dellacqua is no stranger on a doubles court either. In 2009, she was a semifinalist at The Australian Open. And in 2009, she was a runner-up at Roland Garros.
Barty doesn’t have quite the experience as her partner, but the results these two have produced since the tournament began are significant.
In the first four rounds they have beaten Polona Hercog/Francesca Schiavone (French Open singles champion); the #3 seeded team of Lisa Raymond/Maria Kirilenko; the #14 seeded team of Natalie Grandin/Vladimira Uhlirova; and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucy Safarova, Family Circle Cup doubles champs from 2012.
American Lisa Raymond has six Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, won the title in 2000 and made the 2012 quarterfinals. She is one of the most recognizable women on the WTA tour. This is her 20th appearance in doubles in Melbourne. Raymond will be 40 in August.
Maria Kirilenko was runner-up in 2011. She and Nadia Petrova won a bronze medal at the London Olympics and the year-ending WTA Championships. Perhaps Maria was a bit distracted, though. She recently was engaged to Washington Capital’s star hockey player, Alec Ovechkin.
So, yes, Dellacqua and Barty are a force in the semifinals.
In their bracket awaits American Varvara Lepchenko and Saisai Zheng. They, too, have made a mess of the women’s doubles draw, meaning dashing the hopes of seeded teams first and foremost those of Australian Samantha Stosur and German Julia Georges.
After Stosur bombed out of singles in the second round — she was up 5-2 in the deciding third set and lost five games in a row to victor Jie Zheng — the loss in the second round of doubles probably felt like a wet rag in the face.
Then Lepchenko/Zheng defeated a fan-favorite team of Kimiko Date-Krumm (age 42) and Arantxa Parra Santonja. The match was a tight one, Lepchenko and Zheng winning in the third 7-6 (5). They went on to defeat the #17 seeds of Nuria Llagostera Vives/Jie Zheng.
Their berth in the semifinals is even more pertinent because the Williams sisters lost in the quarterfinals to Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the top seeded team and the 2012 finalists. The Williamses served twice for the match yet were broken each time, an unlikely outcome for the 12-time Grand Slam doubles champs.
So it seems that outside of singles lives a buoyant life in two of the most tennis-crazy countries: Australia and America. You just have to take a look at the women.