Australian Open 2017 - Week two highlights
In the top half of the women’s quarterfinals we saw unseeded Coco Wandeweghe take on no. 7 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. Muguruza, last year’s French Open champion was, at least on paper, a clear favourite to make it to the next round. But Wandeweghe has shown from the beginning of the tournament that she’s strong and dangerous. She ended Angelique Kerber’s chances to defend her 2016 Australian Open title and handed her a straight set defeat 6:4 6:2. She carried on her good form to the next match. She took the opening set vs Muguruza 6:4 and didn’t look back. She served the Spaniard a bagel to advance to her first major semifinal.
Venus Williams met Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia for her quarterfinal match. In the previous round the Russian defeated her countrywoman no.8 seed Kuznetsova in straight sets and looked very comfortable on court. But facing Venus Williams proved to be a whole different situation for Pavlyuchenkova. She had her chances, she broke Venus for a 2:1 lead in the first set but was broken straight back. The scenario was repeated once again when the Russian broke for 4:3 and yet again failed to hold her serve and consolidate the break. From then on, Venus powered on and broke Pavlyuchenkova to love to claim the first set. In the second set the scenario was repeated yet again with the Russian claiming the lead twice only to find herself being broken back again and again. She held her serve and pushed the match to a tiebreak where she even had a 0:2 lead but at 1:3 it was all about Venus, she levelled, and Pavluchenkova then double faulted to give Venus 4:3 lead. The American made sure to claim both of her service points. Pavlychenkova lost the tiebreak and the match in the worst possible way - she double faulted on the match point. Venus’ experience and patientience saw her trough to the next round.
In the bottom half of the draw we saw the Czech no.1 Karolina Pliskova take on Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The Croatian made the headlines in the first week of the tournament when she sent no. 3 seed Radwanska packing. Her game seemed to improving more and more the more matches she played. But she was no favourite when coming into the match against last year’s US Open finalist Pliskova. When Lucic-Baroni won the first set 6:4 things started to look difficult for the no. 5 seed. She made a comeback to claim the second set 6:3 and push the match into the decider. In the decider the Croation broke early for a 1:3 lead but let Pliskova level for 3:3. But she wasn’t about to hand the match to Pliskova. She broke again in the ninth game of the set for the 5:4 lead and served for the win. It took Lucic-Baroni 3 hard fought sets to win this match. She was very overwhelmed with emotion after the match. She beat the second TOP 10 player in two weeks and advanced to her first semifinal since Wimbledon 1999 (!).
No. 2 seed Serena Williams took on Johanna Konta, the 2017 Sydney champion on Rod Laver Arena. Konta, the British no. 1, and top 10 player with huge serve could pose problems for Serena. But Serena quickly made her intentions clear. I’m in it to win it. Serena fired 10 aces to 2 double faults and despite her 1st serve percentage being low at 45% she did enough to hold her service games. When Serena’s serve has an off day, she always has a plan B. The key to this match for Serena was her strong return game. She finished the match against Konta with a comfortable straight set victory in one hour and a quarter.
In the men’s top half of the draw we saw Roger Federer take on Misha Zverev. Zverev made the headlines in the beginning of the second week when he took down last year’s finalist and the current world no. 1 Andy Murray. Zverev, an ’’old school’’ serve and volley player had to now face the 17-time major champion Federer. Zverev brought his winning serve and volley tactics to the match against Roger but it didn’t seem to have as much affect on the Swiss and it had on Murray. Roger ended Zverev’s Australian Open dream with a straight set victory 6:1 7:5 6:2 in just over an hour and a half. Stan Wawrinka, the no. 4 seed also won in straight sets against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. The first set was very competitive with Wawrinka winning on the tiebreak 7:6 (2). The next two sets were a Wawrinka show as Tsonga looked more and more out of it. The Swiss won the next two sets 6:4 6:3 and the match was over in two hours and a quarter.
In the bottom half of the draw Rafa Nadal took on world no. 3 Milos Raonic. The Canadian with his strong serving and improved volleying skills was a tough opponent but no match for the 14-time major champion. Rafa won the first set 6:4, took the competitive second set on a tiebreak 7:6 (7) and completed his win 6:4 in the third. During a 2:44 match Raonic had four break point opportunities but failed to convert any of them.
Earlier on the day, Grigor Dimitrov dispatched Belgian hopeful David Goffin in a convincing straight set victory to set up a meeting with the winner of Nadal/Raonic match.
In the women’s semifinals we saw three players aged 34 and over - a 35 year-old Serena, a 36 year-old Venus and an almost 35 year-old (in March) Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Coco Vandewhege was the youngest semifinalist, at age 25. I think it’s important to mention that, it’s important because it shows that age is just a number, that when you’re committed to something and you’re doing it well age shouldn’t be a barrier.
In the first match, an all American encounter Coco Vandewhege faced a 7-time major champion Venus Williams. Both strong hitters, both possessing a big serve. Youth vs. experience. Wandewhege took the first set on a tiebreak 7:6(3). Venus staged a comeback and took the seconds in a convincing manner winning 6:2 to push it to a decider. In the third set she again imposed her game on Wandewhege who found herself struggling to fend of break points. Venus experience on playing the key and pressure moments helped her to complete a comeback win over her compatriot 6:7(3) 6:2 6:3 in almost two and a half hours.
It was now up to Serena to set up the Williams final. She faced Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who less then 24 hours earlier defeated Pliskova in thrilling 3 sets. Lucic-Baroni was visibly struggling on court from the beginning of the match. She was a little off her game, making errors, not serving well enough. With a lot of tape on her left leg, she wasn’t able to move as fast as she’d liked to. Serena on the other hand came out firing from the first point. She served better than in her previous match at 68%, she returned well winning more that 50% of receiving points. It was very much a one sided affair and Serena secured the win in just 50 minutes on court to set up the first Serena vs Venus final since Wimbledon 2009. But Lucic-Baroni shouldn’t feel like a looser. Her effort at the Australian Open was outstanding and we can only hope she continues to play well.
In the men’s draw we saw Roger Federer taking on his compatriot Stan Wawrinka. In the all Swiss battle of one-handed backhands Roger was the favourite. He rose up to the occasion and built a 2:0 set lead. But Stan didn’t want to go off court just yet and staged a convincing comeback taking the next two sets 6:1 6:4 to force a decider. At that point of the match everything looked possible. In the end, one bad service game from Wawrinka was all Federer needed to secure 6:3 win the fifth and take the match 3 sets to 2 in just over three hours.
The following evening Rafa Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov met for the men’s second semifinal. Rafa, the clear favourite vs. Grigor, the in form 2017 Brisbane champion. Nadal emerged victorious from the first set 6:3. Dimitrov worked hard to unsettle the Spaniard. Aggressive play was the key for the Bulgarian player. As a reward for his effort he took the second set 7:5. Game on. With both men serving and returning well, the third set was sent to a tiebreak 7:6(5). The momentum seemed to be on Rafa’s side of the court but in the fourth set the match was still tense. In the tiebreak Dimitrov found himself a break down but managed to win next 5 of the 6 points to take matters into his own hands. The match went the distance. What followed was a thrilling fifth set. Both player worked hard to save break points and the Bulgarian looked to have things in control when he was 40:15 up on Nadal’s serve for a 5:3 lead and a step from serving for the match. Rafa’s response - 3 winners to hold for 4:4. Suddenly it was Dimitrov who found himself in the spot of bother at 0:30 down on his serve. Two match came and went but Nadal made no mistake on the third - his crosscourt shots proved to be too much for Dimitrov’s one-handed backhand. Nadal won in four hours and fifty six minutes to set up a dream final against one of his biggest rivals, Roger Federer. It has to be mentioned that Dimitrov really looked good in the match against Rafa. He’s overall game has improved and he’s shown a lot of promise during the fortnight. Now it’s up to him to take it even further in upcoming tournaments.