Lucky 7: Keys, Anisimova Extend Winning Streaks At Australian Open

Madison Keys (photo: David Mariuz / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

While World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka have been grabbing much of the spotlight in the women’s draw of the Australian Open, a couple of in-form Americans, Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova, are making their presence felt, too.

Both Keys and Anisimova extended their unbeaten runs for 2022 to seven on Wednesday. Each won their second-round matches by identical 6-2, 7-5 scores. Keys defeated Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, while Anisimova eliminated Olympic gold medalist and 22nd seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Each came into the Melbourne fortnight in a good place. On Saturday, Keys won the Adelaide International 2 for her first title since 2019. Two weeks ago, Anisimova lifted the trophy at the Melbourne Summer Set 2.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Keys, a former World No. 7 on the rebound from a disappointing 11-15 season a year ago. “I’m really just appreciating every moment on court and trying to have a lot of fun, but I also just really love competing even in those tough moments.

This season, the No. 51 Keys already has three Top 25 victories, against Elina Svitolina, Coco Gauff and Sofia Kenin. Keys hit 15 aces during her 7-6 (2), 7-5 victory against Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion. In the third round, Keys will oppose No. 110 Wang Qiang of China.

Meanwhile, after Anisimova broke into the Top 25 by the end of 2019 as a 17-year-old teenager, accented by her semifinal run at Roland-Garros, she’s had to deal with the sudden death of her father and longtime coach a week before the 2019 US Open, then a first-round loss in the 2020 Australian Open.

Anisimova missed last year’s Melbourne major after testing positive for COVID-19. Later, she rolled an ankle and went through months of inactivity while recovering, going nearly eight months in between winning multiple matches in a tournament. By the end of 2021, Anisimova’s ranking had plummeted to No. 78, a drop of 48 places from the end of 2020.

Now, with a good start to the 2022 season – plus adding Darren Cahill, former longtime coach for Simona Halep, to her team, who has put her in a calm frame of mind – she’s matured as an individual and improved her ranking to No. 60. Next, she will face Osaka in Friday’s third round.

“It’s very interesting to play against the younger players because I remember being a younger player myself,” Osaka, 24, said in press about facing the 20-year-old Anisimova, “and feeling like I have nothing to lose.”

Indeed, at last, Anisimova seems to be healthy, both mentally and physically, with her game.

While her victory over Bencic is her biggest of the season, her title run two weeks ago in Melbourne seemed to represent a good harbinger of things to come.

“I’ve been wanting to play her for a while,” Anisimova said after beating Bencic. “Our personalities are a little bit similar in terms of composure and trying to be the quiet players on tour.”

 Tauson, Cornet pull off a pair of upsets – within minutes

Anett Kontaveit and Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2021 WTA Finals finalist, exited the Australian open within minutes of one another Thursday afternoon.

In just her second match versus a Top-10 player, 19-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark upset the sixth-seeded Kontaveit from Estonia, 6-2, 6-4, on Margaret Court Arena to reach a major third round for the first time in her budding career. Kontaveit, who won four WTA titles last season, had been nearly unstoppable since last August. She won 28 of her last 32 matches in 2021 and began this year 4-1.

“I didn’t really go into this match with the winning thought,” a smiling and giggling Tauson said during her on-court interview at the conclusion of her one-hour and 19-minute victory. “I was just going in to try and see where my level was at and here I am.”

Later, in her press conference the 39th-ranked Tauson was still in awe of her achievement. “It’s the first time I’m in the third round of a Slam,” she said. “Playing a player like her to reach it, it’s a really big achievement for me. Obviously it was one of the things I really wanted to do, to beat the good players in the bigger tournaments.”

Tauson hit five aces and 20 winners to just 13 unforced errors, while Kontaveit countered with 15 winners and 27 unforced errors. Tauson outpointed her opponent 68-46 to advance against No. 27 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, who defeated No. 58 Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-4, 6-3.

Soon after Tauson’s triumph, another upset was in the making over on Rod Laver Arena. This involved involved No. 61 Alizé Cornet of France taking out No. 3 seed Muguruza from Spain, 6-3, 6-3, in 87 minutes. It was Cornet’s third straight win over Muguruza in five career head-to-head meetings.

Thursday’s match wasn’t as close as the score indicated. While both players struck 17 winners, Muguruza racked up 33 unforced errors and didn’t was broken three times. By comparison, Cornet won 83 percent of her first-serve points, committed just 16 unforced errors and did not face any break points on her serve. She outpointed Muguruza 65-48.

“It feels amazing. I played a good match out there today,” Cornet said in her on-court interview. “My state of mind was perfect. I was not very tight. I was super focused on what I had to do. I felt like in a bubble.

“You always have to play a super-good match to beat Garbiñe. She’s such a fighter. I’m really happy with how I played today.”

Cornet, 31, appearing in her 63rd Grand Slam and 17th Australian Open, reached the third round in Melbourne for the sixth time in her career. Her triumph over Muguruza was her 10th win over a Top-5 foe and fourth Top 10 victory in a Grand Slam.

Second seed Sabalenka survives, advances over Wang

No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus overcame 19 double faults and 43 unforced errors overall to pull out a 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 100 Wang Xinyu of China in one hour and 55 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. Next. She will face No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who advanced over No. 37 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-2, 7-5.

• Other early afternoon winners include: No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland defeated No. 93 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden, 6-2, 6-2; No. 10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia eliminated 480th-ranked Australian wild card Samantha Stosur, 6-2, 6-2; and No. 19 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium beat No. 64 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 6-3 6-2.

Rublev through to third round, Schwartzman upset

No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev struck 35 winners, including 13 aces, in his 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 win over No. 93 Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. Next, he will play No. 27 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, who advanced with a 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6) win over No. 117 Norbert Gombos of Slovakia in two hours and 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina was upset by 173rd-ranked Australian wild card Christopher O’Connell, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4, in three hours and eight minutes on Court 3. O’Connell hit 44 winners to 44 unforced errors and broke Schwartzman’s serve four times. Next, he will face French-born American Maxime Cressy, ranked 70th, who defeated 130th-ranked Czech qualifier Tomas Machac, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5) in two hours and 38 minutes on Court 13.

• No. 24 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain earned a walkover against Arthur Rinderknech of France. The No. 58 Rinderknech pulled out with a wrist injury.

Mutual admiration between Murray and Osaka

During Naomi Osaka’s second-round match against Madison Brengle, Andy Murray tweeted “Anyone hit the ball cleaner from the baseline than @naomiosaka”, along with a fire emoji.

After her victory, Osaka replayed the complement in retweeting Murray’s post. She wrote: “Anyone put their heart on their sleeve and fight harder than @andy_murray?”

During her press conference, Osaka told reporters: “For me, it was a really cool moment.

“It’s a little bit shocking because when you’re playing, you never really think about the TV is broadcasting it and other people are watching. So, yeah, definitely really surreal.”

Osaka said she hit with Murray once, about three years ago in Brisbane, “and it was like a memory that’s really like dear to me. It was really cool just to have someone like him talking about my game.”

Berrettini poetic in signing camera lens

Italy’s seventh seed Matteo Berrettini has shown a flair for the dramatic on the court – and of it, too – especially when it comes to signing the camera lens, a post-match tradition given to the winners of major matches on show courts.

After battling through her first-round match that he won while enduring an untimely case of diarrhea, the 25-year-old Berrettini thanked his stomach medication as he signed the camera lens “Imodium! Grazie!” Then, after Wednesday’s second-round win against American wild card Stefan Kozlov, Berrettini scribbled “Oggi tutti bene!” – today, everything is fine.

What a shot!

During his second-round match against Dutch player Tallon Griekspoor, No. 19 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain pulled off one of the rarest shots in tennis. He hit the ball on his opponent’s side of the net – and it was totally legal.

“I’ve watched it back, it was strange,” admiited Carreño Busta afterward. “It was an important point. I think I made a good return, he serve-volleyed and hit a really good volley.

“I did my best to reach for it and hit a lob, and I think the wind made it really difficult to return, he hit it more or less. He was lucky the ball went in.”

What a rally!

France’s No. 17 seed Gaël Monfils roared into the Australian Open men’s third round for the 11th time, defeating No. 35 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-1 6-0 6-4, on Wednesday night.

Thursday’s Australian Open results

Friday’s Australian Open order of play

Around Melbourne Park

By the numbers

• Men’s No. 31 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain is coming off a 32-17 season in 2021. The 18-year-old NextGen ATP champion is the youngest ATP player to record that many wins in a season in 29 years. He’s also the youngest to reach the Australian Open men’s singles third round in 10 years.

With a pair of wins over Alejandro Tabilo of Chile and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia without dropping a set, Alcaraz is into the third round of the year’s first major and will play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini on Friday.

• When France’s Adrian Mannarino pulled off a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 upset of No. 10 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on Wednesday, he snapped his 12-match losing streak against Top 10 players at Grand Slams. He saved nine of 10 break points against Hurkacz.

“Quotable …”

“My point of view is quite clear: I believe in science and in vaccination. I don’t want to impose my beliefs on others, but we play a global sport, we travel all over the world and we have to respect the countries, with their different rules and legislation. Some countries will not pass a mandatory mandate, so imposing something legal from the WTA can be a challenge.

“It’s one thing if you’re at home and doing things remotely. But in our case, this [vaccination] has been recommended and is what I think should be done.”

– Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, asked about a mandatory vaccine to be able to play on the WTA circuit.

Parting thought from Petra Kvitova