By Jane Voigt
Sport journalists grade players every day. Their commentary and analysis are views of how favorable or unfavorable a tennis player, football player or cricket player has done in their sport.
So how did our players Down Under fare in week one?
Top Half of the Men’s Draw, round of 16
Scan down the top half of the draw. You’re eyes will unconsciously nod at the usual suspects, for example, Novak Djokovic (No. 1), Stan Wawrinka (No. 4), and David Ferrer (No. 9). Then, they’ll pick up on the highly hopeful ones such as Milos Raonic (No. 8) and Kei Nishikori (No. 5). And, finally, you see those that have come in from left field: Gilles Muller and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Which leaves one out … Feliciano Lopez (No. 12).
The Spanish darling many a woman, or not, goggle at seems to have parachuted into the second week, floating this way and that until landing favorably at the doorstep of yet another chance to prove his worth at a major. Talented, creative, and able to dig out from the deepest of holes in a game, Lopez can thank his lucky stars for a first-round win over Wildcard Denis Kudla. The American, ranked number 123 in the world, had 3 match points in the fifth set at 6-5 when Lucky Lopez carved ingenious patterns to finally win 10-8.
Frenchman Adrian Mannarino took full advantage of Lopez’s saggy start in the second round, going up two sets. But Lopez came through in a tiebreak in set 3, runs off 4 games in set 4 and, by golly, Mannarino retires with something close to heat exhaustion. Boom … third round, here comes Lopez. Jerzy Janowicz is no man’s dream of a romp. Young, loud, defiantly grandiose, the Pole had ousted Gael Monfils (No. 17) and could taste the glory of week two. But Lopez was juiced with confidence, believed in the luck of the draw, and wasted the confidence of Jerzy in straight sets, 76(6) 64 76(3).
Lopez cannot be discounted, even when luck has paved part of his path. At 33, his quickness on what seems to be quicker hard courts this year, coupled with a lefty’s gifts of cranky spins and serves, makes him as dangerous as a rattle snake coiled in a basket.
After Raonic defeated Donald Young, the Canadian said he’d like to win without tiebreaks. The chances of no tiebreak sets against Lopez will be a test for both. Lopez is more seasoned, has less to lose on the pride scale, and could very well cause Raonic, a stoic driven man, to question his abilities when the desire of advancement to the first slam quarterfinal of the year beckons.
Week-One Award for Men’s Top Half of the draw goes to Feliciano Lopez.
Bottom Half of the men’s draw, round of 16
Tomas Berdych (No. 7), Rafael Nadal (No. 3), Andy Murray (No. 6), and Grigor Dimitrov (No. 10) are poised to do damage in week two. One name is missing from this list: Roger Federer (No. 2). Out for the first time before the semifinals in ten years, Federer admitted to nothing more than a bad day in his loss to journeyman Andreas Seppi. “Good for Seppi. Bad for Roger,” Nadal explained in his pinpoint-comment on that match’s outcome.
It’s doubtful Seppi will be as relaxed when he glares at Nick Kyrgios across the net next week. But there really isn’t any reason why the Italian shouldn’t be as relaxed. Kyrgios may be the next big thing, but his record is sparse. Except for one moment … he beat Nadal at Wimbledon last year in the fourth round. That’s big news, for sure, but the 19-year-old Aussie fan-favorite cannot thrive on one claim-to-fame result. And, the graders cannot elevate him or expect more from him until he proves himself in situations like he’s in now.
His countryman Bernard Tomic is another case in point. Good for Australia that two of its own have plowed through to week two. But the road roughens and the better players await. Time to step it up, boys.
Rafael Nadal deserves special mention here because he’s Rafael Nadal and because his comeback number three has been a success, so far, in Melbourne Park. A man of few words, except, perhaps, in his native Spanish, Nadal came oh so close to an early departure against No. 112-ranked American Tim Smyczek. Gifted with a service do-over by Smyczek late in the fifth set, Nadal lived to destroy Dudi Sela in the third round and fill his mind with the calm Rafa finds necessary to do his very best.
“Did you do anything differently since your last match?” Jim Courier asked Nadal on court after his win against Sela.
“I sleep,” he said, drawing laughter from crowds inside Margaret Court Arena.
“What are you going to do before your match with Kevin Anderson?” Courier asked.
“Try to have a good breakfast tomorrow,” Nadal said, sniggering.
Week-One Award for Men’s Bottom Half of the draw goes to Rafael Nadal.
Top Half of The Women’s Draw, round of 16
Victoria Azarenka is one of the bigger story lines of the week. Ranked No. 44 coming into Melbourne she came on full force per usual, defeating American Sloane Stephens (also not seeded) in round one for the third time in three years in their third meeting in Melbourne Park. Was it luck? No. Stephens, like Kyrgios, has no career title yet carries a burden piled on her by expectations from all sides because she defeated Serena Williams in the quarterfinals two years ago at this slam. Stephens continued to do well in majors throughout 2013, but fell behind at other WTA tournaments as 2014 progressed and ended early due to a wrist injury. Working again with Nick Saviano, who was thrown away by Eugenie Bouchard after her excellent first-year on tour, Stephens showed moments of brilliance against Azarenka but not enough consistent brilliance to pass the test.
Azarenka took out Wozniacki next, as if she hadn’t missed a beat. Then Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, which was a routine 64 64 win for “Vika.” Dominika Cibulkova (No. 11), the 2014 runner-up, will not roll over come Monday. Advancing under the radar because of soft results from 2014, Domi-the-scrambler has proven she can pick it up at the most important times of the year.
Serena Williams (No. 1), Madison Keys, Madison Brengle, and Venus Williams (No. 18) wait to push off into week two, as well. Of the two Madisons, Brengle is the surprise, a wow-factor winner no questions asked. At 25, she last played in the main draw in 2008. A slight sign of improvement but nothing compares to week two at a slam. She plays Keys who ousted No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova, 64 75.
The brightest star of this half is Venus Ebony Starr Williams. At 34, Venus is the symbol of resurgence. Her victory over Camila Giorgi today, 46 76(3) 61, demonstrated with precision how experience, strength and hope can master adversity. Giorgi hit hard, was lightening fast off the mark and played with more consistency than prior match stats had indicated. The pint-sized Italian had the match on her racquet when Venus’s tennis synced to the pace on court. She was the dominant one; she dictated; she eased off on errors as Camila’s piled sky high to 62 for the match.
Week-One Award for the Women’s Top Half of the draw goes to Venus Williams.
Bottom Half of Women’s Draw, round of 16
Maria Sharapova (No. 2) had a hiccup in round three. Yanini Wickmayer fought her way past Sara Errani (No. 14) in a feisty and sometimes unpleasant encounter. Carina Witthoeft lashed Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 17) in the opening round, but lost to Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania after she knocked the socks off number-9 seed, Angelique Kerber. Unknown names soon to step on the biggest stage of their careers, we welcome them to the spotlights.
The now familiar faces of Ekaterina Makarova (No. 10), Simona Halep (No. 3), Eugenie Bouchard (No. 7) and Peng Shuai (No. 21) have hung tough, as well. But it is Julia Goerge’s place in the round of sixteen that has drawn attention. A former top-20 player with six prior appearances at The Australian Open, the big-serve big-forehand woman is on court to prove herself better than the No. 73 ranking she clings to now. She whipped up on Belinda Bencic (No. 32), a 17-year-old prodigy of Melanie Molitor cast in the mold of daughter, Martina Hingis. Klara Koukalova went down in three sets, and Lucie Hradecka — qualifier who damaged the psyche of Ana Ivanovic in a first-round upset — has left the German Goerges hungry for more.
She’s done the best at this slam, recording two fourth-round appearances in 2012 and 2013. If she can keep her nerves tucked away, a big ask from her, she could land up in the quarterfinals. But, she’ll have to get past a very steady and capable Ekaterina Makarova, the 2014 semifinalist at The U. S. Open.
This half of the draw has so many possible winners, it’s hard to narrow the choice to one. But with lots of ink being spent on up-and-comers, why not award the woman who has returned to fight again and again.
Thus, The Happy Slam Week-One Award for the Women’s Bottom Half of the draw goes to Julia Goerges.