MELBOURNE, January 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
Caroline Wozniacki showed true grit and determination – and played some solid tennis when it mattered most. During her second round match against Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska on Margaret Court Arena Wednesday afternoon, the Danish former No. 1 came from down two breaks in both sets and pulled out a 7-5, 7-5 victory. With her remarkable two hour and two minute victory over the 19-year-old Yastremska, Wozniacki has reached the third round in her farewell tournament – her last Grand Slam – and extended her career for at least one more match.
“I was really nervous going into my first round,” said Wozniacki, 29, struggling to keep her emotions in check during an on-court interview after her win. “Today I actually felt pretty calm, but it quickly became 5-1, and I was thinking, ‘Hopefully I can be out here for another 30 minutes to try and take it all in!’ After winning this match, which was a really tough one, it’s just so special to play in front of such an amazing crowd on one of my favorite courts.”
From 1-5 down in the opening set, the No. 36 Wozniacki captured six straight games and at one point won 14 consecutive points. The 2018 Australian Open champion kept her focus while Yastremska’s level dropped considerably. Then, in the second set, as Yastremska was about to serve at 4-5 to stay in the match, she took a medical timeout. Soon, she was lying on her back on a towel receiving treatment on her upper left leg. When play resumed, she promptly saved three match points during the 10th game and held her serve for 5-all.
Yastremska would save a total of five match points – the fifth on a 17-shot rally. However, it was Wozniacki who pulled herself together and garnered victory on her sixth match-point opportunity while wiping away tears from her eyes. On other days, this match might have gone Yastremska’s way. After all, she hit twice as many winners (36 to 15) but also committed 47 unforced errors to just 15 for her opponent. This time, Wozniacki was not to be denied.
“She came out really flying, hitting so hard and so precise,” Wozniacki said of her opponent. “I just didn’t know what to do. She started making a few more errors, and I started to get a little more depth on the ball and tried to mix up the pace. The crowd also really got behind me, so that was so special.”
Yastremska, who finished runner up last week at Adelaide and is working with a new coach, Sascha Bajin, said her goal this year is to win a Grand Slam. “But I have a lot of goals,” the No. 23 seed from Ukraine told the WTA Insider. “They are small. I hope you are going to see them in reality.”
For now, Yastremska will have to wait patiently until the next Grand Slam at Roland Garros. As for Wozniacki, she’ll just “keep grinding, keeping focusing,” and continue to enjoy the support of the crowd, which today she called “amazing.”
Wozniacki’s next opponent is unseeded Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, ranked 78th, who advanced to the third round with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 46 Caroline Garcia of France.
At the end of her press conference, Wozniacki took a moment to reflect upon her career. It’s anyone’s guess whether she can mount a serious threat to win another Australian Open, which would be her second career Grand Slam title. Wozniacki would have to beat her longtime friend, Serena Williams, in the fourth round to stay in the chase. But, after today, anything’s possible.
“It’s a tournament I’ve always had good crowd support. It feels even more special now,” said Wozniacki. “I feel lucky to still be out there playing – and on a high level.”
Dimitrov is not a vanilla kind of guy
When Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria arrived inside Melbourne Arena for his first-round match on Monday, he sported a dark purple Nike tracksuit that was accented with yellow particle shapes. While Nike has never been afraid to push the tennis fashion envelope in recent years at Grand Slam events like the Australian Open, this time, Dimitrov’s bold outfit caused quite a stir.
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) January 20, 2020
However, Dimitrov didn’t seem to mind and, certainly, his play wasn’t affected by the mixed reviews he received when photos of him soon went viral on social media. He’s happy to be different with his fashion choices.
“I have (no) problem wearing anything, pretty much,” Dimitrov said during his post-match press conference that followed his 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 win against Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina. (Dimitrov’s luck ran out on Wednesday when he lost in five sets to American Tommy Paul.) “I actually love it. I love colors. … I love experimenting as well and when (I’m) out there, I don’t really think that much of the outfit. But it’s so good to feel comfortable. I’ve been fortunately with Nike to be able to have quite a bit of my input.”
Dimitrov’s different-albeit-colorful choice of attire brings to mind some of the eye-catching attire that one of his coaches, Andre Agassi, used to wear a generation ago – also designed by Nike.
“Andre was very happy with it,” Dimitrov said. “He was impressed. He was like, ‘Wow, I know where that comes from.’
“I love being different when it comes to things like that and so many other things. I think the outfit is fun. I don’t want to be vanilla.”
Can anyone burst the Big Three’s bubble?
Since 2006, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, collectively, have won every Australian Open, except one, when Stan Wawrinka beat Nadal in 2014. Can anyone burst the Big Three’s bubble? Perhaps. Consider Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The young Greek star, just 20, who won the Nitto ATP Finals crown last November, has beaten Djokovic twice and Federer and Nadal once each since making his ATP main draw debut in Rotterdam two years ago. He’s got the talent and he’s a lot younger than the Big Three, too.
“He does play tennis fearlessly, but, then, most elite players do. It’s his style that compels and holds the promise of greatness,” writes Gerald Marzorati in a recent profile for The New Yorker.
On Wednesday, the No. 6 seed advanced over German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber by walkover without having to lift a racquet. His next opponent is No. 32 seed Milos Raonic of Canada, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Cristian Garin of Chile.
Crowds flocking to Melbourne Park
Wednesday’s overall attendance of 79,775 included a first Wednesday day session record crowd of 55,440, which broke last year’s mark of 52,653. There were 24,335 fans on hand for the evening session, which ended at 12:15 a.m. Thursday when No. 10 seed Madison Keys of the United States finished off No. 93 Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 7-6 (3), 6-2, in one hour and 19 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
When Day Three at the Australian Open began, it was 85º F (29.4º C) with winds gusting up to 30 miles-per-hour. The air quality by all accounts was good. Then, rain settled in later in the day, but matches stayed on schedule – all 67 of Wednesday’s fixtures were played – and the retractable roofs on the three show courts of Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena came in handy.
After No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova beat No. 97 Paula Badosa of Spain, 7-5, 7-5, in the opening match on Rod Laver during the day session, the Czech star was asked to describe the difficulty of playing under such windy conditions. She said: “Today was everything together, very difficult. The wind was, you know, hitting side to side or you never know and which side it’s coming. So, yeah, it was a bit different and very difficult.”
Tennis community continues to rally
After his first-round win Tuesday night, men’s No. 7 seed Alexander Zverev said he would donate $10,000 for each match he wins at the Australian Open to help out the Bushfire Appeal cause. Zverev even went further by declaring that if he wins the AO men’s singles title, he would donate all of his prize money.
“If I win the Australian Open, I will be the happiest person on the planet,” Zverev said. “I think that the $4 million will be in much better use in hands that know what to do with it, and know how to help others.”
Women’s top seed Ashleigh Barty, for one, is humbled to see how the tennis community has shown its support by donating toward the bushfire crisis.
“It’s been incredible, it really has,” said the World No. 1 Barty following her 6-1, 6-4 second-round win over No. 48 Polona Hercog of Slovenia. “I think it goes beyond the tennis community. The whole nation is coming together. And I think it’s what is amazing about Australians is that when our backs are against the wall, support each other and we come together.
“It’s been very generous from people all over the globe donating to try and help, because every single little bit counts. Whether it’s big or small. It all makes a massive difference.“
Barty continued: “It’s been amazing to be a very small part of all the donations. And the fact that the tennis community is coming together, because I think, you know, the work that everyone is doing from the firefighters, volunteers, everyone, it’s been remarkable. That’s the best way to put it. It’s been amazing. It’s really nice for the community but the whole nation to come together, as well.”
Often during post-match press conferences, the media love to stray away from inquiring specifically about a player’s just-completed match and, instead, ask questions designed to bring out the player’s personality. To wit, Maria Sakkari of Greece was asked whether she would like to see a Greek restaurant in Melbourne name a dish after her in the same manner that fellow Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas has “The Stefanos Souvlaki.” Her reply: “Maybe another dish. We leave that for Stefanos, and we say moussaka or pastitsio. Moussakkari! Make sure you tweet it. Moussakkari. If I’m gonna use it, you get royalties, 10 percent.”
What they’re saying
• Serena Williams, 38, mother of a two-year-old daughter and a businesswoman with a fashion company among her many non-tennis ventures, was asked during her on-court interview after beating No. 70 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, 6-2, 6-3, how she manages to multi-task so well. After all, she’s won 23 career Grand Slam tournaments. Serena said: “It’s not easy, some days are definitely harder than others. I’m running a full-time company and this morning I’m sending emails about our March designs. Being a mom is very special to me, it’s the best thing I’ve done. I’m really hands-on. I’m a little obsessed, but I love it. I love every aspect of it, it’s so fun.”
• Aussie Nick Kyrgios reflected upon the bushfire crisis happening in his home country after he won his first-round match Tuesday night: ”If you get down to it, people are losing their families and homes. It’s not easy to just completely switch your concentration on the Australian Open – ‘How is your forehand going today?’ – when you put it in perspective.”
• Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, the highest-ranked Arab woman in tennis history, told ausopen.com’s Reem Abulleil: “When I’m playing at the Grand Slams or anywhere, I try to show that this is the Arab woman, this is what we are. I don’t see any difference between me, or any European or American woman. For me, I’m happy I’m giving this good example and hopefully I can inspire more ladies, in any field, to believe in their dreams and achieve their dreams.”
• Novak Djokovic on what he would like to be if he weren’t a tennis player: “I’d probably stay in the sport because I come from a sports family. I grew up in the mountains, skied a lot when I was younger. My dad was a professional skier. Most of my family were professional skiers. I’d probably be on the slopes right now somewhere in Europe.”
What they’re writing
Louisa Thomas, contributing writer to The New Yorker, from “Tennis Goes On At The Australian Open, Despite the Fires – This Time”: “The persistence of sports in times of tragedy is part of their worth: a stadium becomes a sanctuary; games give the public something to root for. And the players, by and large, have struck the right notes, recognizing that they can use their platform both to draw attention to the disaster – the twenty-eight people who have died, the thousands displaced from their homes, the millions of acres burned, the hundreds of millions of animals killed, according to some estimates – and all, while they play, to provide a temporary mental escape from it.”
By the numbers
• On Wednesday, five men’s seeds were sent packing: No. 8 Matteo Berrettini, No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 21 Benoit Paire, No. 30 Daniel Evans and No. 31 Hubert Hurkacz. It was not a good day for the favorites. A quick perusal of the men’s draw and one notices that No. 3 seed Roger Federer, who is in pursuit of his seventh Australian Open title and 21st Grand Slam overall, is a big beneficiary of the many upsets. If Federer reaches the quarterfinals, he’ll do it without facing a seed or a player currently in the Top 40. That’s because they’re all gone from his section of the draw. The only seeds remaining in his quarter of the draw besides him are No. 12 Fabio Fognini and No. 22 Guido Pella and they face off in Friday’s third round.
• With her first-round loss on Tuesday to No. 19 seed Donna Vekic, the 145th-ranked Maria Sharapova, 32, is set to drop out of the Top 350. Sharapova, who entered this year’s Australian Open with a wild card, was playing in just her second competitive match since last summer’s US Open, after recovering from a variety of injuries.
• Former World No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, a three-time Australian Open quarterfinalist (2005, 2009, 2013), is a battler with a never-say-die attitude on the court. On Tuesday night, she hit 37 winners against 2019 French Open quarterfinalist Marketa Vondrousova, seeded 15th, who was playing in only her second tournament since missing six months due to wrist surgery. The No. 53 Kuznetsova won 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to advance against No. 102 Camila Giorgi of Italy on Thursday.