Sunday, February 1, 2015

Martina Hingis still a force in Melbourne

Yesterday, Martina Hingis and Leander Paes won the Australian Open mixed doubles championship, defeating defending champions Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor 6-4, 6-3. This was the second time that Hingis had won the mixed doubles title; she also won it in 2006, with partner Mahesh Bhupathi.

Hingis won the singles championship in 1997, 1998 and 1999. She won the doubles title in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2002. She played with Natasha Zvereva in 1997, Mirjana Lucic in 1998, and Anna Kournikova in 1999 and 2002.

Leander Paes, who is also Hingis's World Team Tennis partner, holds seven major mixed doubles title, two of which he won with Martina Navratilova, after whom Hingis was named.

Hingis's return of serve in yesterday's final was so instinctive and sharp, it seemed as though no time had passed at all, though it's been 18 years since she won her first title in Melbourne.

Australian Open--what they said

We're undefeated in World Team Tennis, won the championships a few times now. So far we're
undefeated in Grand Slam tennis. Not trying to put the pressure on, but we haven't lost a set yet. It's the first Grand Slam I've ever won out of my 15 that I've never lost a set and that's thanks to this young lady here. The smarts, the intelligence is what stands out.
Leander Paes, referring to Martina Hingis

 It was not as physical maybe, but it was more of a mental match today.
Martina Hingis

At this stage in your career, both of you are so experienced, do you have any targets remaining for your career? Lee, I believe you're trying to complete a career Grand Slam. Are these targets for you in the future?
My target is to get Martina her career Grand Slam. That's my goal. If it takes me two years, so be it. That's my goal.
Leander Paes

I’m really sleepy and very tired. My legs are dead. I feel worn out, but I also feel very happy.
Serena Williams

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Champions everywhere

Yesterday, unseeded Tereza Mihalikova of the Slovak Republic won the junior girls' Australian Open title when she defeated 14th seed Katie Swan 6-1, 6-4. Swan, who saved three match points in her semifinal match, was hampered by a leg injury in the final.

What may be the most brutal upset of the tournament was pulled off by Jiske Griffioen. Griffiioen, an established wheelchair doubles champion, won her first major in singles by defeating Yui Kamiji 6-3, 7-5 in the final. Had Kamiji won, she would hold all seven major titles. As it is, she'll have to be content with holding just six of them.

Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley won the doubles title, defeating Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

The mixed doubles final will be played today. Defending champions and 3rd seeds Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor will compete against 7th seeds Martina Hingis and Leander Paes.

I did not publish the singles' finalists' paths to the final on Friday because I have been ill and not too sharp, and I just forgot. My apologies. Here they are, for those who haven't had a chance to go over them and would like to see them:

SERENA WILLIAMS
round 1--def. Alison Van Uytvanck
round 2--Vera Zvonareva
round 3--Elina Svitolina
round of 16--Garbine Muguruza
quarterfinals--Dominika Cibulkova
semifinals--Madison Keys

MARIA SHARAPOVA
round 1--def. Petra Martic
round 2--def. Alexandra Panova
round 3--def. Zarina Diyas
round of 16--def. Peng Shaui
quarterfinals--def. Genie Bouchard
semifinals--def. Ekaterina Makarova

Australian Open--what they said

Did you feel you were in control of the match? You got a bit tight in the second set. Did you still feel on top?
I won the first set really I can say easy. But the second set, at the beginning I made a few mistakes. But I still felt like I can win this thing, and I want to win in two sets, not to go to the third, as in first three rounds. When she went to the medical, I sat to the chair. I said, Okay, Tereza, come on; win this in two sets. I started to believe in myself, and I'm happy I did it.
Tereza Mihalikova
 
I didn't expect to be here this long. I was walking down the hall yesterday and I was thinking, Wow, I'm still in the tournament. It's been a long time since I've been to the final here or the semifinal. It's been a long time coming. I was just really, really elated to have an opportunity to walk out on the final match.
Serena Williams
 
You talked about not being drawn into the aggressive style of play that she has. How happy were you with executing the plan you went in with?
Well, as much as I would love to hit a 200 kilometer an hour serve, I just don't think that's feasible with my shoulder. There's a lot of things I'd love to do in this world but I can't; that's just the reality of it. But in terms of getting to the point, yeah, there's definitely a few times where I rushed and made a few errors, but I don't think as many as in my previous matches against her.
Maria Sharapova

Wow! Congratulations Serena! We are lucky to have you as our inspiration
Tweeted by Petra Kvitova

My two favorite players are Bouchard and Sharapova. Sharapova is in the final today. I'll be watching that. I hope in the future I can come back and be doing as well as they are.
Katie Swan

...I actually believe that we attract what we're ready for. Yes, I haven't won against her many times, but if I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well. I'm setting up a chance to try to beat her and it hasn't happened. I'm not just going to go home without giving it another chance. That's just not who I am and not who I was raised to be. I'm a competitor. If I'm getting to the finals of Grand Slams and setting myself up to play a match against Serena, I mean, I know it sounds -- maybe you're telling me I'm wrong -- but I'm happy to be in that position. I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is.
Maria Sharapova 

Well done miss
Tweeted by Vika Aazarenka

What is your nickname?
I have a lot of nicknames. But here everyone calling me Terka. And my dad is like Tereza. But I like Terka.
Tereza Mihalikova

After the let at the match point, how confident were you to hit the same spot again?
I wasn't confident at all....
Serena Williams

Serena Williams wins 6th Australian Open title




It was a really good match, as a major final should be, despite the fact that it was over in straight sets. Serena Williams, playing in the Australian Open women's final against Maria Sharapova, beat the Russian star for the 16th consecutive time, but she had to seriously compete for the win, especially in the outstanding second set. Sharapova played a better match against Williams than she has in a while, but still couldn't manage to take the world number 1 to a third set.

Sharapova didn't get off to a good start. She was broken in the first game, but after Williams held, Sharapova held at love. Obviously having settled down a bit, Sharapova began to introduce the shot-making variety that would propel her to make this match so competitive. The roof had to be closed (something many thought should have been done earlier because the sky was dark and there was light rain). Williams, who is ill, began coughing--she's been coughing all week--and left the court.

During the break, there was a somewhat amusing display on the court that looked like a send-up of the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony: Dozens of ballkids, arranged in a symmetrical pattern and all bending over in exactly the same way, wiped the court dry with towels. Chris Evert, calling the match for ESPN, pointed out that the Australian Open could spend millions of dollars to put up roofs, but for drying, all they could come up with were some towels.

When play resumed, Williams broke for 5-2, but then double-faulted twice when she served for the set, and was broken back. However, she then broke Sharapova at love to take the first set 6-3.

Sharapova's serve improved considerably from the beginning of the second set. Her second serve, in particular, became less of a liability, and she took the set to 2-all with controlled power. In the fifth game, Sharapova moved ahead of Williams, but couldn't break her. In the seventh game, Williams went down 0-30, but then hit two aces and held for 4-3, despite Sharapova having had a break point.

Williams then held for 5-4, and Sharapova saved a match point with a forehand down the line. She used a drop shot (not for the first time in this match) to get the ad point, and then held when Williams' return went wide. Wiliams then held at love, and then Sharapova took it to a tiebreak.

Williams got an early mini-break, and stayed ahead throughout. When she went up 6-4 and needed just one more point, she did a complete twirl, then squatted and shook her entire body for a moment. This match had some tension! Sharapova then missed her first serve, but survived by spinning in an almost-ace second serve, then winning the point with another ferocious forehand.

But time was running out for the Russian. It was Williams' turn to serve, and she hit an ace. She jumped in the air and began her walk toward the net, but--wait!--the ball was called a let, and play continued. So Serena hit another ace, and that was that, 6-3, 7-6. Because, as the champion said a few years ago about her big match-ending aces: "You know how I like to do it."

Williams hit 18 aces in this match--15 of them in the second set. She also ended the match with an 84% first serve win percentage. Sharapova, especially in the second set, threw just about everything she had at Williams, but the Williams serve, when it's on--which is most of the time--gets Serena out of trouble again and again. As long as she's serving at this level, Williams prevails. Even when she's injured. Even when she's sick.

As for Sharapova--she's getting closer. Someone had to lose, but in this case, the loser looked really good. You can't get any better than that in a final.


Friday, January 30, 2015

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It's no secret that women's tennis isn't considered "real" tennis by a lot of people, just as women's basketball, football, you name it, isn't considered "real" when (irrationally) compared with men's sports. Commentators struggle to say the "right" things about female athletes because the right things simply do not come natural to them. Female athletes are put down in word and action every day. It's nothing new.

Wimbledon has a history of not showing respect to its female competitors, but--not to be outdone--the Australian Open is playing catch-up.

First, there's the matter of Vika Azarenka. Jeered and taunted by both the Australian press and Australian fans, she still managed to win the event two years in a row. Officials engraved the abbreviation for "Belgium" on her trophy instead of "Belarus." This year, on two occasions, the Bulgarian flag was painted next to her name on the court. There's always some new way, it seems, to show disrepect toward Azarenka.

There was also an obvious reluctance to showcase women in the night matches this year.

And then, there was the collusion between Tennis Australia and the Australia Open that allowed the former to call a press conference right in the middle of the second women's semifinal. This move wasn't just insulting to world number 1 Serena Williams and her opponent, Madison Keys, but to all women, and all who care about women.

And speaking of respect: See this?


It means that Maria. Sharapova. Is. Russian.

And finally--still on the same subject, and you know who you are: Grow up. Look a woman in the eye and shake her hand.

Unseeded Mattek-Sands and Safarova win Australian Open




Last night, the unseeded team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova won the Australian Open doubles title, defeating 14th seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Zheng Jie 6-4, 7-6. The decision to play together was a last-minute thing for Mattek-Sands and Safarova (but certainly a pairing any of us could get behind), and they little time to practice. During their run, they also defeated 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

This isn't the first time that Safarova has won a tournament with a partner with whom she had not prepared. In 2013, she entered the Family Circle Cup as the defending doubles champion but without her 2012 partner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. At the very last minute, Safarova and Kristina Mladenovic decided to enter as a pair. I recall asking Safarova if they had ever practiced together, and she said they hadn't. When I asked her how she thought they would do, she just rolled her eyes and gave me a look. They went on to win the tournament.

Also of interest: One of the teams that Mattek-Sands and Mladenovic took out was the 10th-seeded team of Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic.

This is Safarova's first major title. Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau won the Australian Open mixed doubles title in 2012.

Australian Open--what they said

I don't know how often it's happened that a first-time pairing has won. But, I mean, you get two great players playing together, I think a big part of it is me and Lucie are really good friends. Communication's huge. Whether we were down in a match, up in a match, we were having fun. I think that helps teams really play well.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands

What is the most fun part playing with this creative, crazy American?
Pressure. No, I think like that's a great person. I really enjoyed all two weeks.
Lucie Safarova

You've been on the tour for so long. What do you really love about this game? What drives you crazy? What do you hate?
What do I love? I mean, I can't say I love rehab and all that kind of stuff. You know, you do all that and you train hard for the moments like today. I mean, you want to go out there and play your game. Obviously we know we're in a final, but you kind of get past that and you love to play tennis. You love to come up with shots. I like those big-pressure moments. Okay, I'm going to cross; I'm going to take a chance. I like taking chances. That's kind of my game. I'm aggressive. I'm not afraid to do that. You get those big moments where it's tight in the tiebreaker, you call a big play. To me that's what makes tennis exciting.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands

What are we talking about tea time?
Mattek-Sands:We had tea time in the locker room every morning before the warmup or the match. We would get our Earl Grey.
Safarova: Chillin.'

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

She hits a very, very hard ball, but she also hits it very deep. So it's a little different trying to prepare for that. But, yeah, so I wasn't ready really for that.
Serena Williams

You need a little bit more to believe that you can be in the final.
Ekaterina Makarova

You're going to be playing someone who is either a bit sick or a bit injured. How do you feel?
I feel good, thank you.
Maria Sharapova

In terms of this run, what pleased you the most inside yourself?
I think just handling the moment is probably what I'm most happy about. I think at times it got a little overwhelming in the fact that I was able to manage and do so well and able to get through that is what I'm most happy about.
Madison Keys

 What do you remember about the last time you lost to her? Do you remember?
Yeah. She was 17, super young, and I think I was basically underhand serving. It was in L.A.
Serena Williams, discussing Sharapova

How is your confidence against her?
I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I'm facing against and whether I've had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone. It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title.
Maria Sharapova

What's so different playing a quarterfinals to a semifinals? Is it a physical thing? Dealing with everything around it? The emotions?
Yeah, I think it's more emotions, more psychology working at this level, these matches. It's definitely not even more tennis, more the head.
Ekaterina Makarova

Serena Williams advances to Australian Open final--and what a journey

Top seed and five-time champion Serena Williams needed nine match points in today's semifinal match to win her spot in the Australian Open final. She needed nine match points because her opponent, 19-year-old Madison Keys, just would not go away. During the entire two-set match (whose 7-6, 6-2 scoreline doesn't begin to describe what actually happened), Williams got a taste of what it can feel like to be on the opposite side of the net of--Serena Williams. Keys served magnificently, and struck the ball so hard that she actually made Williams spin around on court a few times.

Keys has been a hard hitter and a good server since she entered the tour, but now she has added better shot selection and she has developed that fine sense of just when to strike the ball. It's no wonder; her tennis lineage is impressive.

As a very young player, she trained at the Evert Academy. Several years ago--six or seven--when asked it there was anyone up and coming, Evert said no, not at the moment, but she had someone very young who was going to make a very big impression (my words--I don't recall her exact ones). That "someone" was Madison Keys. Keys is currently coached by Lindsay Davenport, one of the cleanest hitters of the ball to ever play on the tour. Between Evert's backhand skills and legendary mental toughness and Davenport's serving and ball-striking, there was a lot of good stuff for Keys to absorb.

Keys lost today's semifinal, but her great serving, stunning groundstrokes and gutsy face-down of Serena thrust her into a new level of "young star." Saving the eight match points was a show in itself.

Williams was great, and she seemed to relish the opportunity to get the better of someone who wasn't afraid to battle her. Keys played so well, the match only served to remind us all how great Serena is. Between them, they hit 25 aces (13 for Serena, 12 for Madison).

During this huge thriller, Tennis Australia chose to hold a press conference about its Davis Cup team, and Australian Open officials allowed them to do it. And I think that speaks for itself.

The other semifinal could have gone one or two ways: Either Ekaterina Makarova was mentally ready to get to a major final--or not. The answer was clearly "not," which Makarova openly acknowledged in her press conference. What an odd career Makarova has had. She's won only two singles titles, but she storms into majors and easily gets to the second week. She used to get to the quarterfinals and then lose belief. At the 2014 U.S. Open and in this Australian Open, her belief has grown and she's made the semifinals.

One hopes that some time soon, her belief will grow some more and we'll see her in a final--or at least see her being competitive in a semifinal. In this one, her beautifully tricky lefty serve was scarcely seen, and she just didnt have any confidence against Maria Sharapova. Sharapova won 6-3, 6-2 against a really flat Makarova.

So now it comes down to Williams and Sharapova again, and Williams has defeated Sharapova so many times; the 2nd seed, in fact, has not beaten Williams since 2004. Williams is not totally healthy--she's suffering from a respiratory virus--but that didn't stop her from beating a very tough Keys.

For some reason, Garbine Muguruza was asked the other day about Sharapova's Serena problem. Her take? "When you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head blocking during the match." I'll go with that. What will Maria do with it?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

The winners count was 30-14 in your favor. Did you consciously resolve to go for it even more after the injury?
Yeah, at that point I knew I couldn't run as much. I knew if I was going to get stretched out it was going to be more painful. It was kind of that thing if you have it, go for it, because I'm probably not going to last that long in a rally. That's kind of what I did.
Madison Keys

 I think a lot of players would have been happy with this tournament. I'm happy with progress. I'm not happy with a loss, I'll tell you that.
Venus Williams

I think your match against Madison will be the second to play for the semis. Talk about the different mindset between playing the first semis and the second semis. What's the experience?
The one thing is you'll get to know who you play in the final, so you have that in the back of your mind. That's about it. There's really no big difference. I've played first; I've played second a hundred times.
Serena Williams
 
I tried to change something today on return, but it didn't work out well, you know. Yeah, she just didn't give me any time to breathe on the court today.
Dominika Cibulkova

Before today did the fan in you think Venus and Serena in another Grand Slam semifinal would be cool?
Personally I was kind of thinking I would really like to be in the semifinals. But I wasn't really thinking about that.
Madison Keys

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

USA vs. Russia, no matter what




19-year-old Madison Keys reached her first major semifinal today when she defeated Venus Williams  6-3, 4-6, 6-4 at the Australian Open. Keys--whom Chris Evert pointed to as a potential champion many years ago when Keys trained at the Evert Academy--dominated Williams throughout much of the match, and did so while carrying a left adductor injury.

To put the whole thing in context: It's quite a statement that Williams, after everything she has been through, reached the quarterfinals of a major, and it will be more than interesting to see how far she can go at Wimbledon, which she has won five times.

Keys--much like her coach, Lindsay Davenport--is a major ball-striker. So is Venus Williams, but Williams' serve gave her problems in the quarterfinal match, and Keys was able to take advantage. There is some question about how Keys' injury will affect her in the semifinals, which are played tomorrow, but one somewhat neutralizing factor is that her opponent, Serena Williams, is sick with either a cold or some other respiratory disorder.

Williams has coughed her way through the tournament, and she sounds really hoarse. However, being ill didn't stop her from running over her quarterfinal opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, who was last year's runner-up. Williams won 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour. She hit 15 aces and and was completely dominant on every part of the court. This is generally how it goes for the world number 1: She starts out a bit shaky, but when she reaches the business end of a major, she gets into a zone that cannot easily be penetrated.

Now she will face a countrywoman very much her junior to determine who goes to the final. At the same time, Maria Sharapova will also face a countrywoman, Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova has never defeated Sharapova, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a chance.

The "other Russian" has been at home on the big stage (not so much on other stages) for years, and every season, she advances a little farther. Last year's U.S. Open marked her first appearance in a major semifinal, and the occasion seemed to be more than she was prepared to face. I think she's more prepared now. Makarova has yet to drop a set in Melbourne, and her lefty serve is a dangerous one.

The tennis world has been so focused on the singles stories that one of the tournament's major upsets has been almost ignored: Top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were upset by Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the third round. In the quarterfinals, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova took out 3rd seeds Makarova and partner Elena Vesnina.

The doubles final will feature the unseeded Mattek-Sands and Safarova (both superb doubles players, so no real surprise) and 14th seeds Chan Yung-Jan. The return of both Chan and Zheng to a major doubles final is one of the most interesting things to happen at the tournament. Chan (a wild card, partnered with Chuang Chia-Jung) was the runner-up at the 2007 Australian Open. Zheng and partner Yan Zi won the Australian Open in 2006, and they also won Wimbledon that year. Yan and Zheng won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

I need some time to used to it, to understand that it's a little bit different game starting on that level. So now I'm pretty understanding how it is, and I'm so happy that I came through today.
Ekaterina Makarova

Her lefty slice is not easy to give the ball back.
Simona Halep, referring to Makarova

I had to have a really good performance against Genie.
Maria Sharapova

My idol was Anastasia Myskina.
Ekaterina Makarova

She looked so smart on the court. She doesn't have a lot of power, but she was moving the opponent so much. Like it was so enjoyable to watch her game.
Ekaterina Makarova, referring to Myskina

Against great players, you have to take every little chance you can get. Although she didn't give me many, I know I had some. Disappointed I couldn't do better with those.
Genie Bouchard

But sometimes is happening to feel that you are not in a good mood to play, you know, you don't feel your game very well.
Simona Halep

Mother Russia knows best




Remember Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Well, the Simona Halep pod made an appearance today in Rod Laver Arena, and who knows what it did with poor Simona? I can't explain why the match outcome didn't surprise me; I just had a feeling, all last night and today, that Ekaterina Makarova was going to come out very loose and Halep was going to be hesitant and nervous.

Makarova beat Halep 6-4, 6-0--and no, I didn't think it was going to be that bad-- though both players had disappointing winner/unforced error rations (Halep's was 31/15, Makarova's was 20/10). The match, which lasted and hour and nine minutes, was a pretty flat affair, and Halep sometimes seemed like she wasn't even in it (shades of a certain embodiment of Li Na). The Romanian star later denied she had put pressure on herself, but said that she felt inexplicable stress.

Makarova definitely needs to clean it up, but she still looked pretty good out there. She has yet to drop a set in Melbourne.

So on to the Big Match, which turned out--surprise, surprise!--not to be that big at all. Maria Sharapova needed only two sets to defeat Genie Bouchard. Sharapova's service game was on, and she had an even (19/18) winner/unforced error stat. Her opponent, however, made 30 unforced errors while hitting 13 winners.

Bouchard got in some impressive shot-making, as she always does, but Sharapova played a cleaner match and was able to control the proceedings with her serve--just like the old days. She won 6-3, 6-2.

The two Russians will play each other in the semifinals. Sharapova won the Australian Open in 2008 and was the runner-up in 2007. Makarova, who has never defeated Sharapova, has now reached her second major semifinal; she was a semifinalist last year at the U.S. Open.

Pova replies

Australian Open--what they said

What changed? Things shifted in the second set.
Well, is difficult to say, no? The level was very high, the most high level. So I think the difference was like two points or three points at the end. I really started playing really good. With the time, I was playing worst. At the end I was feeling more tired, and my shots weren't as good as the first set. I just think she also started to play better. Serve was very important for her. So that's it. Only really small difference.
Garbine Muguruza

We often when people come back after they've won the Australian Open we ask them how hard is it to defend it. It's probably just as hard for someone who is the runner up. Do you feel that pressure a bit?
I don't know if--I don't see myself like I have to be in the final. It's never easy. Even the big names, the big players, it's not easy to defend something like this. So I don't think like this. It's a new year. It's a new start. I'm starting the year pretty well again. So this is how I see it.
Dominika Cibulkova
 
Radwanska plays as if she has blocked out her entire day for the match. Venus plays like she is running late for a bus.
Craig O'Shannessy

Your skirt on your left thigh was folded under for most of the tournament. Was that on purpose or doing that for some reason? Kind of a random question, I know, but...
If I'm going to tell you I was trying to show a little bit of my skin, would that satisfy you? No, it's really just to make sure that the ball doesn't fall out. When it's too flowy sometimes I get my racquet caught in my skirt. So just to be more comfortable.
Victoria Azarenka

Maria Sharapova has not beaten Serena in ten years. If you could give Maria any advice from your experience, what would you tell her?
It's difficult to say. I think Serena has the game to beat also Maria. Obviously has to be mental. When you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head blocking during the match. I think maybe improve more the way she plays to beat her. I think the way she plays is not the way to beat Serena. That's what I saw in the ten years. What can I say?
Garbine Muguruza

Cibulkova and Williams emerge in thrilling round of 16 matches




Dominika Cibulkova (whom, by the way, I predicted good things for several years ago in Charleston when hardly anyone had heard of her), when she's on, can be a bit scary. She runs down everything and she hits the ball as hard as anyone. When you consider Cibulkova, Halep and Justine Henin before them, you wonder if perhaps the whole "big babe" narrative has been overdone.

Cibulkova has powerful legs and a powerful core. She knew, early on, that she would need them if she were going to succeed in professional tennis. For several years, she had to retire from matches because of hip and back injuries, and you never saw her without a thigh wrap. But she found a team that helped her get past that. Her problems now seem to be more mental, but she's in excellent mental form in Melbourne, just as she was last year when she reached the final.

Cibulkova's task today was to take out two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, and she did so, hitting 44 winners in her 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Azarenka just couldn't stay away from Cibulkova's lethal forehand, and it did her in.




That was a thrilling and exhausting (even for spectators) match, and it was followed by another extravaganza, this one put on by top seed Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza. It was Muguruza who took Williams out of the French Open last year, beating her 6-2, 6-2. And it was Muguruza who beat Williams 6-2 in today's first set. It looked like the French Open all over again, with the Spaniard out-hitting the world number 1 in stunning fashion.

Williams, I should mention, was clearly not well. She actually sounded like I've sounded for the last several weeks, what with all the coughing. The similarity ends there, however. Whereas I've barely been able to slog through my housework and occasionally go to my office for a while, Serena was able to withstand the onslaught and go on for two more ball-pounding sets. She defeated Muguruza 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, but part of her victory must be attributed to the Spaniard's gradual meltdown. By the third set, Muguruza had become an error machine. The young star seems to have only two final-round gears--play a bagel set or fade away.

Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska will play in the night match, but next up are the Madisons. Madison Brengle has won more tour-level matches this year than she she had previously won in her entire career. That is a very interesting fact in itself, but when you add to that the fact that she has advanced to the round of 16 at the Australian Open, it becomes amazing. The part about playing someone named Madison in the round of 16? You could never make this stuff up.