Major Comebacks: Wozniacki, Mertens Show It’s How You Finish A Match That Counts The Most

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Fans of both Caroline Wozniacki and Elise Mertens – not to mention the players themselves – are breathing a big sigh of relief after each staged major comebacks to win their respective second-round matches at the Australian Open on Wednesday to advance to the third round. Indeed, as both players demonstrated, you keep playing, keep hustling, keep fighting until the last point has been fought and decided, and you hear the chair umpire call out “Game, set, match.” To wit:

• World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, came back from 5-1 down in the third set and had to save two match points in order to beat No. 119 Jana Fett of Croatia, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. “That was crazy. I don’t know how I got back into the match,” said the second-seeded Wozniacki. “I was like, ‘This is my last chance.’ At 5-1, 40-15 … she served a great serve down the T (and) it was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.”

How lucky? Wozniacki went on to win the next nine points and 24 of the 31 points played after the first match point. Next for Wozniacki is No. 30 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who reached the AO third round for the first time in her career with a straight-set win over Nicole Gibbs of the U.S., 7-6 (3), 6-0.

• The last match on court Wednesday night at Melbourne Park, starting at 11:59 p.m. on Rod Laver Arena following Grigor Dimitrov‘s lengthy five-set victory, was a second-round battle between 37th-ranked Elise Mertens of Belgium and No. 25 seed and Aussie favorite Daria GavrilovaGive a lot of credit to Mertens, last week’s champion at Hobart, who saved eight set points – yes, eight set points! She rallied from 0-5 down and won seven consecutive games to capture the first set 7-5. Mind you, Gavrilova, ranked 23rd in the world and currently No. 2 in Australia behind 17th-ranked Ash Barty, had four set points at 5-0. Ouch! Maintaining her sense of cool and playing steady the rest of the way, Mertens won in straight sets by taking the final set against Gavrilova, 6-3. Afterward, the Belgian thanked the late-night crowd for their support.

“I am really grateful and thankful that you guys stayed!” said Mertens, during an on-court interview after her win. “She was playing amazing (at the start), hitting the balls right on the lines, but I kept on fighting. As long as you believe in yourself, anything can happen.”

News, notes & results:

• Not sure if unseeded Maria Sharapova had a lunch date to keep or just wanted to beat the match-time 35º C-degree Melbourne heat. Either way, the 2008 AO champion from Russia, playing in the Day 4 opener Thursday on Rod Laver Arena, needed just 23 minutes to win the first set 6-1 against 14th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia. Then, Sharapova won a second-set tie-break to settle the match and advanced with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) second-round win that took a total of 81 minutes. It avenged her 2017 U.S. Open loss to Sevastova. “I felt good about my game today. I started out well,” said Sharapova, during an interview with ESPN. “I was mentally ready for the heat.”

• Big upset: Unheralded Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, ranked 88th in the world, stunned No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6 (1), 6-4, with an attack that featured short, compact strokes and resulted in 25 winners for her and 43 unforced errors for Muguruza. The loss marked another disappointment for the Wimbledon champion, who has one retirement and one walkover in her two other 2018 tournaments. It also meant that four Top 10 seeds – and 9 of the top 16 seeds overall – are gone from the women’s draw.

• No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova won easily over Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, 6-1, 6-1 in just 45 minutes.

• No. 9 seed Johanna Konta didn’t play her best – maybe she was too anxious? – and she suffered for it. Although Konta fought off three second-set match points against American “lucky loser” Bernarda Pera, the 23-year-old who is ranked No. 127, beat the former AO semifinalist on Show Court 2 – and she played like anything but a loser in advancing to the third round with an impressive 6-4, 7-5 victory. Pera struck seven aces, won 68% (23 of 34) of her first-serve points, converted four of 17 break-point opportunities and hit 26 winners against the outmatched Konta.

“I was more nervous to serve out the first time, when I lost the game at 5-4,” said Pera, during an on-court interview. “I felt a little less nervous at 6-5. I am so happy that I was able to finish it.”

• No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia of France rebounded for a 6-7 (3), 6-2, 8-6 win over Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

• No. 20 seed Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Lara Arruabarrena of Spain.

• No. 26 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland came from behind to beat Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, a finalist earlier this month at Brisbane, defeated 2017 AO semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, 6-3, 6-1.

Sam Querrey, who was the highest remaining American seed in the men’s draw at No. 13, lost to 80th-ranked Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-2.

• No. 21 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain moved into the third round with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (2) win over American Tim Smyczek.

• Court 13 was lucky for Nicolas Kicker of Argentina, who took out Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, 6-2, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5.

Roger Federer has always enjoyed a remarkable relationship with the media who cover him. He’s affable and polite in front of the camera when being interviewed on court after winning a match – never taking himself too seriously – and, sometimes, he can be funny and inject a bit of humor, too, as he showed on Tuesday night during an on-court interview with Hall of Famer John McEnroe that later included actor/comedian Will Farrell, who assumed his Ron Burgundy movie character, asking Federer if he’s ever eaten wombat meat. And, let’s face it, Federer is very well-spoken in handling post-match press conferences, often in multiple languages. Let’s see: the Swiss maestro is fluent in English, French, German and his native language of Swiss-German. He also speaks Italian and Swedish. As he recently commented in a press conference during the AO, Federer opened up on the relationship between tennis players and the media.

Federer said: “That power of the microphone is a funny thing. Some players I think struggle with it. I would like to see more players just being really themselves in front of the press, being more relaxed about it, not worrying so much about making mistakes. You guys know not every word should be twisted. You know maybe how he meant it, don’t make him pay so badly for a mistake. You’d rather see that than robots left, right and center. I feel like sometimes some players have gotten a little bit too robot like. I wish they would let loose and be themselves. I try to always do that. It’s not always easy, but I try hard.”

• In case you missed it: Alizé Cornet ended No. 12 seed Julia Goerges‘ 15-match winning streak on Wednesday, 6-4, 6-3, to reach the third round.

What they’re saying:

• ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert had nothing but high praise for 22-year-old American Mackenzie McDonald, the 186th-ranked former national collegiate champion, who pushed Grigor Dimitrov to five sets in the second round Wednesday night on Rod Laver Arena before losing. Said McEnroe: “What a performance from the young American. He battled the entire way.” Added Gilbert: “This was such a memorable day. This reminds you why in tennis you never want to take somebody for granted.” During his on-court, post-match interview, Dimitrov said of McDonald: “He played unbelievable.”

• At the beginning of No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal’s second-round match with Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday afternoon, ESPN analyst Darren Cahill, who moonlights as coach of women’s top seed Simona Halep, was asked by his broadcast partner, commentator and Hall of Famer Cliff Drysdale, about the World No. 1 Nadal’s fitness and, at age 30, being a favorite to win this year’s AO men’s title. Said Cahill: “So much depends upon how Rafa is feeling. No one works harder on and off the court than Rafa. Over the last couple of years, look at the amount of time that he’s been able to put into the preparation of getting out on the court and putting in the hours of practice and getting into the gym. I think if anybody is going to show wear and tear in their career, it would be Nadal because of the way that he plays. To be quite honest, he’s looking younger than his age at the moment.”

What they’re writing:

• Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated executive editor and tennis writer: “Novak Djokovic has done a convincing Novak Djokovic impersonation. Rafael Nadal is not only winning but winning fast. Roger Federer was rocked back on his heels and caught flat-footed. (But that was only after his match, when interviewed by Anchorman himself, Will Ferrell.) The women’s draw is wild and unpredictable, the perfect complement to the predictability of the men’s. Players are fighting with management. All of which is to say, tennis is up to its usual hijinks.”

What they’re tweeting:

• Andy Murray (@andy_murray), who recently underwent successful hip surgery: “Having watched some of the @AustralianOpen on the TV the court speed looks great. Rewards and allows for attacking tennis. … A lot more variety in the points getting played. … Much more fun to watch.”

• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist (@christophclarey), on Wednesday’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga-Denis Shapovalov five-setter, in a series of tweets: “Shapovalov and Tsonga exchanging blows not strokes.” Then: “Tsonga channeling 2008, breaks Shalpovalov down 3-5 in the 5th with a circus backhand stab volley. Quel match!” Finally: “Tsonga’s experience and staying power came into play. … Comes back to beat Shapovalov 7-5 in the 5th.”

• Ben Rothenberg, New York Times tennis correspondent (@BenRothenberg), asked if, when the Dimitrov-McDonald match reached 6-all in the fifth set, there should be a tie-break instead of playing out the final set, tweeted: “Nah, I love long final sets (ideally third sets). Don’t go home ’til you break and hold.”

• Daniel Nestor, Canadian doubles player (@danielnestor), who was eliminated in the first round of men’s doubles on Wednesday: “Thanks @AustralianOpen for over 25 great years. Unfortunately my last one came to an end today. Will leave this beautiful country with fond memories of a gold medal and my first grand slam win. Lucky to have spent over 2 years of my life here and share with my family too.”

About the author

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.