If the first week of this year’s Australian Open is any indication, the second half better be good. And not better than good. Outstanding. Because this first week, with all of its drama, controversies and now yesterday’s history making match, will be a hard act to follow. Tennis fans may still forever view “Mahut” as the greatest match in history, but that epic battle now at least has a worthy rival — “Franlana”.
Yesterday started out relatively status quo with expected wins by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Li Na. But an incident involving imaginary kanagaroos in Caroline Wozniacki’s mind stole most of the headlines for the better part of the day. Wozniacki, after winning her fourth round match with ease against Anastasjia Sevastova, basically told a “big one” in her press conference about being attacked by a baby kangaroo at a local zoo, but then later revealed that the whole thing never happened, and I guess “Woz” felt so bad about lying that she then scheduled another press conference to basically say, “I’m sorry.” Like a girl who broke a vase in her family’s house and then fessed up afterwards when the vase couldn’t be found. Whatever your feelings on this one, especially toward the media who should have fact-checked this “tale”, the real fact remains Wozniacki is still having a hard time handling being the “queen” of her sport.
While all that kangaroo business was taking place, the real “animals” (based on a great quote from “Sveta” earlier), were to be found on Hisense Arena where the fourth round match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone went from protracted to historic with both women battling each other for over four hours and forty-four minutes in the longest women’s match ever in a Grand Slam before Schiavone prevailed 6-4, 1-6, 16-14. The first two sets took almost two hours themselves as Kuznetsova, whose big powerful groundstrokes were expected to blow out the feisty Italian, found herself in protracted rallies with Schiavone. In the third set, Kuznetsova had six match points, but all on Schiavone’s serve. Schiavone did manage to break Kuznetsova herself several times, but the Russian found ways to claw back into the match before a final break by Schiavone allowed her to serve out the match. The high quality of tennis during the final set by both players awed everyone watching and though Kuznetsova is obviously disappointed that she came out on the losing end, the fight she showed throughout will hopefully end her tag as being mentally fragile on big points. For Schiavone, who somehow found a way to grind herself to a win, she now takes on Wozniacki in the next round.
As “Franlana” was halfway through its dramatic third set, Maria Sharapova found herself down 6-2, 5-1 to Andrea Petkovic to the shock of probably everyone who had a ticket to Rod Laver Arena. Sharapova had 30 unforced errors in the match, but it was Petkovic’s clean play throughout that allowed her to close it out, despite getting a little dicey when she served for it again at 5-3. Petkovic will not face the red hot Na Li who took out Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 in convincing fashion with many now picking Li to go all the way to the finals.
And finally, in what could be called a mild upset, though many expected the outcome, another red-hot player Stanislas Wawrinka took out Andy Roddick with almost relative ease 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Wawrinka outserved and outhit Roddick which will only add fuel to the fire, especially among American fans, that if Roddick ever wants another chance at a Grand Slam title, he’s going to have to be more aggressive, especially off of his forehand side. For Wawrinka, he now gets a chance against his Olympic doubles partner Roger Federer in the quaterfinals in a match I think could go the way of “Stan” if Federer isn’t careful.
But it’s “Franlana” or however you want to call it that will remain in people’s hearts and minds well after the final point is played out at this year’s Australian Open. A lot of criticism has been heaped upon the women’s game for many reasons, some of it due to many people feeling the women’s tour isn’t as compelling as it used to be. I don’t know if “Franlana” will change that perception or not, but the fact that these two warriors captured the attention of everyone in the sport and provided the best set of tennis played in a long time, by either men or women, should hopefully turn some of those same critics into lifelong fans.