Category Archives: Australian Open

The Merits of “Home” Wild Cards

The tennis world was first introduced to Olivia Rogowska when she pushed then-World No. 1 Dinara Safina to the limit in the first round at the 2009 US Open. An 18-year old, Rogowska played with the reckless abandon one would expect from a teenager in her first professional season. Safina recovered from an 0-3, 15-40 deficit in the third set and escaped with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 win.

At the 2009 US Open, Rogowska was a wild card – a position she has since become quite familiar with in her five professional seasons. However, with a career-high ranking of No. 111, current ranking of No. 172 and career earnings of just $486,920, she’s received little career benefit from those handouts. With a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round of the Brisbane International this afternoon, Rogowska’s WTA record as a wild card in Australia falls to 1-12.

Brisbane

2014: R1 – l. to Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 7-5

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Monica Puig 6-2, 6-3

2012: R1 – l. to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4

Hobart

2011: R1 – l. to (Q) Tamira Paszek 6-1, 6-3

2010: R1 – l. to (2) Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-2

2009: R1 – l. to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-1

Sydney

2013: R1 – l to Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-2

Australian Open

2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Vesna Dolonc 5-7, 7-5, 8-6

2012: R1 – d. Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-1 | R2 – l. to (5) Li Na 6-2, 6-2

2011: R1 – l. to Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 6-1

2010: R1 – l. to Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 2-6, 6-2

2009: R1 –  l. to (31) Alona Bondarenko 5-7, 6-3, 6-2

In addition, Rogowska has received the reciprocal Australian wild card at the other three slams three times. As a wild card at Roland Garros and the US Open, she has recorded an overall record of 1-3.

While this is not necessarily an indictment on Rogowska herself, her situation represents one that has become all too common. Players from the four Grand Slam nations have long been the beneficiary of nearly-unlimited wild cards when the opportunity arises, regardless of deciding factors including age, ability level and recent results.  Rogowska played out of her skin for a set and a half against a crumbling Safina nearly five years ago, and has ridden that result (of a match she lost) even since. Often, she’s continually placed in draws where she’s out of her depth and has failed more often than she has succeeded. As a result, she’s achieved little momentum in her professional career.

One Australian player who didn’t receive a main draw wild card into the Brisbane International is Ashleigh Barty. She received a wild card to the qualifying draw instead. Barty, the 17-year old wunderkind who reached three Grand Slam doubles finals last year with Casey Dellacqua, has struggled to make inroads in singles on the women’s tour. After battling past Cagla Buyukakcay 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the opening round, she defeated sixth-seeded Julia Glushko 6-3, 6-2 to move into the final round of qualifying. In the final round, Barty saved five match points in defeating Kiki Bertens, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two fairly young players (Barty, 17 & Rogowska, 22), two different situations. Even if Barty also loses her first match in the main draw, she would leave Brisbane with a lot more confidence and momentum than Rogowska.

With this not a unique situation, it becomes a question of whether or not the wild card system itself is flawed. Does a concept meant to give players an opportunity that they might not get otherwise end up doing more harm than good?

The Year Australia Fell in Love With Jelena Dokic

When Jelena Dokic arrived in Melbourne Park in January of 2009, all she had left was her story.

More than a decade removed from her professional debut, Dokic had been languishing around in proverbial limbo since dropping out of the top 100 in 2004. She fell off the WTA rankings following a 2007 season where she played just one match, a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Giulia Gatto-Monticone in an ITF $10,000 event in Rome, and earned $98. After cutting off all ties with her controversial father, Damir, and pleading Tennis Australia for help, Dokic recommitted herself and made a full-time return to competitive tennis in 2008. She won three titles on the ITF Circuit (including a 25K in Germany where she defeated Michelle Gerards 6-0, 6-0 in the final), and decided she was ready to test the waters at Grand Slam level once again.

She emerged from the round robin stage of the Australian Open wildcard playoffs with a 2-1 record and defeated Monika Wejnert in the final match to earn a spot in the main draw of the 2009 Australian Open.

Ranked No. 187, Dokic’s 2009 Australian Open campaign began on Hisense Arena against Tamira Paszek. Paszek was fighting her own demons, as just one year earlier, she participated in possibly one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the tournament on that very same court. In a battle of two-handed backhands, it was Dokic who prevailed over an opponent ranked 107 places higher than her in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

It was Dokic’s first win in a Grand Slam since 2003 and at the event itself in 10 years. To put it in context, Dokic was 15 when she had last won a match at the Australian Open. She had not yet defected back to her family’s native Yugoslavia, nor had yet she returned to her adopted homeland proclaiming herself truly Australian. Despite her rocky relationship history with her adopted homeland, as the match against Paszek went on, the Australians began to pull their support behind Dokic more and more.

Dokic returned to Rod Laver Arena for the first time in eight years two nights later, when she faced off against No. 17 (and equally tragic tennis heroine) Anna Chakvetadze. In her player’s box sat only her boyfriend Tim Bikic and his brother and her new coach, Borna Bikic. That didn’t seem to matter for Dokic, because for the first time, she also had nearly 15,000 strong in her corner as well.

After serving for the match at 6-4 5-3, Dokic proceeded to lose the second set in a tiebreak before rebounding to take the match 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. An emotional Dokic broke down in her post-match interview, recognizing just how much the crowd support meant to her.

To quote Maria Sharapova, Rod Laver Arena became Dokic’s home for the rest of the tournament as she battled her way through two more three-setters against No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 29 Alisa Kleybanova (two-part highlights here and here) to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since Roland Garros in 2002, when she played for Yugoslavia. It was her first final eight showing as an Australian since Wimbledon in 2000. Far from her peak fitness, Dokic consistently remarked how much the crowd played a part in pulling her through.

After rolling her ankle late in the third set against Kleybanova, Dokic’s fairytale run came to an end at the hands of Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals, 6-4 4-6 6-4.

In the five years since her magical showing Down Under, Dokic’s still been riding the roller coaster that’s defined her career. After finishing 2009 at No. 57, her highest ranking since 2003, she shot down the rankings just as quickly in 2010. She returned to the top 100 in 2011, won her first WTA title in nearly nine years in Kuala Lumpur and also reached the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch before losing to Roberta Vinci. However, it was in 2011 that things began to unravel for Dokic. She struggled that season with mononucleosis, a hamstring injury and a right shoulder injury. It was a wrist injury that proved to be her undoing in 2012, one that required surgery.

Now unranked once again, Dokic will play her first competitive tennis match in 18 months today, again at the annual Australian Open wildcard playoff hosted by Tennis Australia. Her opponent in the first round? Jarmila Gajdosova, who’s looking to script a comeback of her own after being sidelined with mononucleosis herself for much of 2013.

“I think it’s always the same – the love for the game,” Dokic told The Australian. “I don’t think that ever changes…I don’t really care as much whether I win, whether I lose and how I play, I just want to be out there and have that feeling again of competing and being nervous and adrenaline and everything.”

Although all of Australia might not be watching when Dokic takes the court Tuesday in the shadow of Rod Laver Arena, whatever happens next is just another chapter in her story.

The “ChiChi” Train Keeps Rolling

This post originally appeared at Tennis Grandstand.

What makes a successful doubles pairing?

Of course there are the obvious things, like a dominant serve, a quality volley or solid groundstrokes. However, sometimes the most important thing in crucial situations is not the technical tennis, but the chemistry of the team. The most successful teams trust each other’s judgement completely, which allows them to act on both individual and team instincts on the biggest points. However, this bond doesn’t come overnight. Two of the greatest doubles teams of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan and Venus and Serena Williams, have spent a lifetime developing this chemistry; the American sibling pairs have amassed a staggering 25 Grand Slams titles between them.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, while not related by blood, have perhaps the next best thing.

For what they lack in size, as they stand at just 5’5” and 5’4” respectively, they make up for it in guile, passion and craftiness. While each made great strides individually in singles in 2012, the Italians also ruled the doubles court; their history-making year began with a run to the Australian Open finals at the #11 seeds, where they lost to the unseeded pairing of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva.

Errani and Vinci’s exploits in 2012 were reminiscent to those that the fellow-BFF tandem of Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta put together in 2010. Dulko and Pennetta won seven titles that year, including the WTA Championships in Doha; they ended the year as No. 1 and finally got their slam at the 2011 Australian Open.

Following the loss Down Under, Errani and Vinci went on a tear, winning WTA events in Acapulco, Monterrey, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In addition, they came out on top of Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko in three sets to triumph at Roland Garros, and dominated Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in two to win the US Open. They ascended to the No. 1 ranking in September and finished the year in the top spot.

When Errani and Vinci returned to Australia in 2013, with one less “1” next to their seeding, the pair came full circle.

Much of the Australian Open doubles tournament’s narrative focused on the Williams sisters, the “de facto best team in the world regardless of the rankings.” There were calls, perhaps unfair ones, for the Williams sisters to be bumped to the top seeding. The duo only played two of the four slams in 2012, in addition to the Olympics. Facing off against the 12th-seeded Americans in the quarterfinals, Errani and Vinci appeared determined to prove their worth. The Americans served for the match twice in the second set and led 3-0 in the third, but the Italians would rally for a 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 win. Although the Williams sisters won Wimbledon in 2012 and took home Olympic gold, the Italians did just as much winning on the biggest stages last year. Once a team learns how to win together, it’s a hard habit to break.

The tandem defeated the Cinderella story of the tournament, wildcard Australians Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to win their third major championship. ”Our strength is that we always play together,” Vinci said, after winning the title. “We went out there today with lots of grit, we really wanted to win.”

In the last four slams, the Italians have amassed a 20-1 record, the only loss coming in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to Hlavackova and Hradecka. They now hold 14 doubles titles total, including their three majors. Prior to this stretch, the pair had never won a title greater than an International-level WTA event.

Sometimes, continued success can bring about ego trips and adversely affect a team’s chemistry. For example, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, who won three grand slam doubles titles together, had a notorious falling out at an exhibition match in Chile in 2000; when Kournikova agreed with a lines judge about a disputed call, Hingis retorted, “Do you think you are the queen? Because I am the queen.” A screaming match featuring the throwing of flowers, vases and trophies reportedly followed afterwards in the locker room.

Conversely, all of their success has appeared to make Errani and Vinci’s friendship stronger than ever; as far as we know, the biggest off-court spat the Italians have ever had was spurred on by the question: “Who can keep it up for longer?”

Get it Right: Grunting & Hindrance

I always tell myself that I’m never going to get involved with the two most ridiculous debates in tennis, grunting and equal prize money, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Let me preface this by saying this is not going to be a rant about the aesthetics of grunting. Some find it annoying, while others, such as myself, aren’t bothered by it at all. That’s completely acceptable; I’m not here to force my opinion on others, nor would I appreciate others forcing their opinion on me. However, I am here to address facts.

It is because of this that I felt the need to write this, against my better judgement; despite the fact that this non-issue has already been beaten to hell and back, the commentary on it points towards another, even more glaring issue in tennis.

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