AUSTRALIAN OPEN (Melbourne, Australia; outdoor hard (Plexicushion); Major)
1. First-round preview
2. First-round scoreboard-report: Zvonarëva v Rybáriková
1. First-round preview (Sunday 18th January 2009)
Vera Zvonarëva has a mouthwatering match with the gorgeous Magdaléna Rybáriková. It's unfortunate that it's a first round, as I really wanted Magda to win a couple of matches here.
The only time I've seen Magda play was in the final of the Girls' Singles at Wimbledon 2006, which was on BBCi. Magda was up against a 15-year-old Caroline Wozniacki, and took the first set with some Daniela Hantuchová-esque play: those backhands down the line, and beautiful backhand drop-volleys. But inexplicably, Magda started slicing her backhands (but staying back), and lost 3-6 6-1 6-3.
Magda has a big serve, and a forehand with a long backswing that can be both a major weapon and an error-source. Since I haven't seen her play since Wimbledon 2006, I don't know whether she has shortened that backswing as I suggested.
I've been waiting since 2005 for Magda to establish herself on the WTA Tour, and at last she is in the process of doing so.
Last year, Magda rose from #279 to #58, winning ITF St. Petersburg-Vsevolozhsk and ITF Patras in March/April 2008, successfully qualifying for the French Open and Wimbledon (where she lost in the second and first rounds of the respective main draws), and posted her career-best result at a Major by reaching the third round of the US Open.
Magda reached her first WTA Tour semi-final at Tashkent 2008, but sadly, on her 20th birthday (4th October), she retired with illness after losing the first set 6-3 to Sorana Cîrstea. Magda finished 2008 with a 48:21 win/loss record.
After a first-round loss at Auckland, Magda reached her second WTA semi-final at Hobart this week, beating world #13 Flavia Pennetta 7-5 6-3 in the second round (her first-ever win over a top-twenty player), and then sinking Melinda Czink 6-0 1-6 7-6 (9/7) in blistering heat, so it's excusable that she lost 6-1 6-3 to Iveta Benešová in the semi-finals the next day (Thursday). Magda just rose to a career-high #50.
After her Hobart semi-final and before the AO draw was made, Magda said: "I'm looking forward to Melbourne now. My best [Major] performance was [the] US Open third round, so now I will aim further, but it's going to be very hard."
Vera has never played Magda before. They were due to meet in the second round of Prague 2008, but sadly that match didn't even get on court, as Magda withdrew with a low-back strain. Vera, of course, went on to win that tournament.
I expect Vera to have the edge in this match, purely because she's coming off such a great 2008. But from Magda's perspective, it's a good time to play Vera because Magda just reached a semi-final while Vera was sidelined by illness this week. I expect Vera to have a win, but not an easy win.
Zvonarëva fell in the first round at Melbourne Park in 2008, but after her astonishing run at the Sony Ericsson Championships, where she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ivanović, Janković and Elena Dementieva to reach the final, it's hard to imagine the intelligent Russian succumbing to a similar fate this time around.
But, although 'What Vera Did Next' could well prove to be one of the most compelling stories of 2009, the resurgent 24-year-old arrives in Melbourne short of match-practice, having missed Sydney with a stomach-bug.
Meantime, at the Moorilla Hobart International, 20-year-old Rybáriková beat Flavia Pennetta for her first top-twenty win, on her way to her second Tour semi-final. The reward was a top-fifty début this week for the Slovak No.3, and if she can keep her momentum, the 5'11" player will give Zvonarëva much to contemplate.
2. First-round scoreboard-report: Zvonarëva v Rybáriková (Monday 19th January 2009)
Nice winner, nice loser:
+ VERA ZVONARËVA [7,EF] d. Magdaléna Rybáriková [DF], 7-6 (7/2) 6-0
Because it was match between two very special girls, and started as early as midnight in England, I decided to follow live scores at www.australianopen.com.
Magda broke first for *2-0, but Vera responded with four games in a row (including a five-deuce marathon at 2-2*) for 4-2*. However, Magda broke back, and Vera had to serve to stay in the first set at *4-5 and *5-6 - with a seven-deuce marathon at 5-5* in between.
Vera dominated the tiebreak, and then Magda fell apart in the second set - possibly wilted in the 34°C heat - and didn't win a single point on her serve as Vera won her 17th 6-0 set since the start of 2008.
Nevertheless, it was an encouraging performance for Magda in her first-ever match against a top-seven player (she had never previously played anyone ranked higher than #13). Slowly but surely, Magda is working her way up towards the top of women's tennis, and just might be the next player I shall induct into my Eternal Fanship.
ZVONARËVA __@*@* * *T 7(7)
RYBÁRIKOV *@____*@* *__ 6(2)
The match was first on Margaret Court Arena, and started at 11:13 AEDT.
Magda serving 0-0: 30/0. 30/15. 40/15. Held.
Vera serving 0-1: 30/15. 40/15. 40/40. Ad Magda (BP). Held.
A bad start for Vera, being broken from 40/15, but I can't pretend I'm not a little bit excited for Magda!
Magda serving 2-0: 0/30. 15/30. 15/40 (BPx2). 40/40. Ad Magda. Deuce #2. Ad Vera (BP #3). Broken.
Phew! When Vera was game-point down after squandering two break-points, I began to think of the awful consequences of losing her in the first round. Of the six members of my Eternal Fanship that I have here, only Vera can realistically expect to be in the second week after the 2008 she had - without her, they'd probably all be out by the second round, as at the US Open 2008.
Vera serving 1-2: 0/40 (BPx3). 40/40. Ad Magda (BP #4). Deuce #2. Ad Vera. Held.
Phew! Four break-points saved, and now Magda has the baggage of missed opportunities. It will be tough for her to serve after that...
Magda serving 2-2: 15/15. 30/15. 30/40 (BP #1). 40/40. Ad Magda. Deuce #2. Ad Vera (BP #2). Deuce #3. Ad Vera (BP #3). Deuce #4. Ad Magda. Deuce #5. Ad Vera (BP #4). Broken.
What a game! Two game-points saved, four break-points needed. Vera is a terrific fighter, and that game suggests that Magda may be too, but it's a rough introduction to top-seven tennis for her at the moment.
Vera serving 3-2: 15/0. 15/30. 40/30. Held.
Vera has now won four games in a row, as I just knew she would after winning that big game at 2-2*.
Magda serving 2-4: 0/15. 40/15. Held.
Credit to Magda for hanging in when Vera has the momentum!
I'm really enjoying following these scores now that both girls seem to have settled down. Of course I'm happy when Vera's a break up, but whatever happens, this match will have a very nice winner!
Vera serving 4-3: 15/0. 15/30. 30/30. 30/40 (BP). Broken.
And in the twinkling of an eye, the momentum has switched back to Magda, and she has the advantage of serving first...
Magda serving 4-4: Held to love.
Vera serving 4-5: Held to love.
An excellent response by Vera, putting the pressure back on Magda immediately. I feel the next game will be more important for Magda than for Vera, because it's Magda's serve and Vera has a huge advantage of experience.
Magda serving 5-5: 0/15. 30/15. 30/40 (BP #1). 40/40. Ad Magda. Deuce #2. Ad Magda. Deuce #3. Ad Vera (BP #2). Deuce #4. Ad Vera (BP #3). Deuce #5. Ad Magda. Deuce #6. Ad Vera (BP #4). Deuce #7. Ad Magda. Held.
Wow - what a game! Four break-points saved, four game-points needed. It's a good thing Vera gets to sit down before she has to serve again!
Meanwhile, Vera's potential semi-final opponent Ana Ivanović has just taken a tough first set 7-5 against gorgeous Julia Görges.
Vera serving 5-6: 15/0. 15/15. 30/15. 30/30. Held.
Well, it looks like I could be right with my 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4 prediction! But boy will I regret it tomorrow if this match keeps me up past 3am in England!
6-6 tiebreak (all scores Zvonarëva/Rybáriková): 0/0*. *1/0. *2/0. 2/1*. 2/2*. *3/2. *4/2. 5/2*. 6/2* (SP #1). Vera won the first set 7-6 (7/2) at 12:17 AEDT (1h04m).
I feel Vera's experience paid off in that set after trailing *4-5 and *5-6. I don't think I'll be up until 3am after all. It will be tough for Magda to come back from such a tough first set in which she had chances - especially in the 34°C heat.
There was a seven-minute delay between the last scoreboard-update of the first set and the first of the second, which implies a bathroom-break.
ZVONARËVA *@*@*@ 6
RYBÁRIKOV ______ 0
As I predicted, Magda's falling apart a bit after losing that first set. But I'm impresssed with her performance so far against a top-seven player. I'm sure this will be a valuable learning-experience for her.
This match is over. Magda hasn't won a point on serve in this second set.
Vera serving 4-0: 30/0. 30/40 (BP). 40/40. Ad Vera. Held.
But Magda is still putting pressure on Vera's serve. Vera perhaps guilty of a little complacency there, but she remains on course for one of her beloved bagels (last year, she won 16 sets 6-0 - more than anyone else).
Magda serving 0-5: 0/40 (MP #1). Vera won 7-6 (7/2) 6-0 at 12:41 AEDT (second set 24m, match 1h28m).
I thoroughly enjoyed following those scores, and am delighted for Vera that she won. I'm also pleased for Magda, as I feel she is continuing to make great progress despite that second set!
Both girls had negative W:UE ratios: Vera 24:29, Magda 16:36.
Vera got 61% of her first serves in, winning 69% of the points when she did so, and 48% on second serve. From the first set to the second, she seemed to take some pace off her first serve, as she got more first serves in, but her first-serve winning-percentage dipped.
The corresponding percentages for Magda were 55%, 63% and 24%, but they slumped from a respectable (60%, 68%, 32%) in the first set to an abysmal (25%, 0%, 0%) in the second!
Vera served much faster than Magda: fastest 103-95mph, average first serve 98-95mph, average second serve 87-75mph. Magda's service-speeds suggest there was something wrong with her, because I've always thought of her as having a big serve.
Vera served 6 aces and 5 double faults, Magda 3 aces and 7 double faults.
Vera broke 5 times from 14 BPs (converting just 2 of 11 BPs in the first set, but 3 of 3 in the second), Magda twice from 7 BPs.
Vera won 11 of 15 points at the net (73%), Magda 9 of 14 (64%). All these points were in the first set.
In points, Vera won 80-59 (first set 55-52, second set 25-7).
Zvonarëva through after first-set scare
By Amy Blake (www.australianopen.com)
World No.7 Vera Zvonarëva has advanced to the second round of Australian Open 2009, surviving a first-set scare against Slovakia's Magdalena Rybáriková before winning 7-6(2) 6-0.
In a colourful Margaret Court Arena, the tight opening set saw both players record 16 winners and three aces apiece, while Zvonarëva just bettered her opponent with two fewer unforced errors.
The world No.58 pushed the seventh seed to her capacity in the first set, which lasted an hour and six minutes.
Displaying on-court maturity beyond her 20 years, Rybáriková was the first to make her move, breaking Zvonarëva's serve in the second game.
The Russian was quick to claw back, winning the next four games, including taking a break at 3-2.
Rybáriková then went on her own winning streak, getting the advantage back by winning three consecutive games to level at 5-5.
The battle for the crucial 11th game saw some fancy net-work from both players and six deuces, including four unconverted break-point opportunities for Zvonarëva.
At 5-6 and with a first-set loss on the horizon, Zvonarëva was able to keep her cool and serve to take the momentum going into the tiebreak.
From there, the 24-year-old didn't look back, showing the athleticism and powerful forehand that have become her trademarks.
The second lasted a mere 22 minutes, with Zvonarëva breaking Rybáriková's serve three times to finish with a rush.
* Zvonarëva served three aces in the second set, while Rybáriková did not have any.
* Zvonarëva won a total of 80 points to Rybáriková's 59.
* Of Rybáriková's 59 points won, 52 of them were in the first set.
* Rybáriková had an average first-serve speed of 153km/h.
* Zvonarëva's first-serve speed was an average of 158km/h.
Women's tennis gets off to heated start in Melbourne (AFP)
The women's Australian Open has got underway with victories for world number-one Jelena Janković, seventh seed Vera Zvonarëva, and Serbian pin-up Ana Ivanović.
Seventh seed Zvonarëva dug deep to claw past Magdalena Rybáriková of Slovakia 7-6 (7/2) 6-0 and into the second round, relieved to overcome early jitters.
The Russian was pushed all the way in the first set by her 20-year-old opponent, but after easily winning the tiebreak, she took control and won the second in just 23 minutes.
The 24-year-old, who has never gone beyond the quarters in 24 Majors, has not played this year, and looked rusty early on as she struggled to cope with the powerful groundstrokes of her younger opponent.
But as the match wore on, Zvonarëva began to get her timing, and showed enough to suggest she would push her more fancied rivals for the year's first Major title.
She admitted her lack of recent tournament-play had caused her problems against Rybáriková, who reached the semi-finals in Hobart last week.
"It was a bit of a struggle in the first set, because I had no rhythm and everything was new - practice is nothing like an official match," Zvonarëva said.
"But then I was able to find my rhythm a little bit better, and I was very happy the way I played in the second."
Rybáriková, the world number 57, started impressively, holding her first serve comfortably, then breaking Zvonarëva to open up a 2-0 lead.
The experienced Russian broke back immediately to get games back on serve, then broke again, and looked likely to race away with the first set.
However, Rybáriková fought back, broke again in the eighth game, then held her next service-game to love to take the set into a tiebreak.
Zvonarëva, though, took the tiebreak comfortably, then stormed through the second set against an increasingly despondent Rybáriková.
"I lifted my game in the second set: I started to play a little bit faster, and started to hit my shots a little bit better," Zvonarëva said.
"Maybe she wasn't able to deal with that; she wasn't ready that I could change my game after the first set."
2.3 How I feel about my Eternal Fanship and Magda
I haven't inducted anyone into my Eternal Fanship since Lucie Šafářová in January 2008, and since I'm already struggling to keep up with eight active players, I'm in no rush to find the next member of my Eternal Fanship.
Magda might just be the next player I induct into my Eternal Fanship. I certainly have the requisite Passion, but she would also have to satisfy my Reason. It's not enough to be gorgeous; I only induct a player into my Eternal Fanship if she's a joy to watch in tennis-terms too.
It's because Magda is up and coming that she's the first player I think of when I ask myself who my next Eternal Fanee will be. The other candidates have been around since 2004 without convincing me to induct them, so the next one will probably either be Magda or some junior I haven't heard of yet...