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January 22, 2014

Direct Kick: Two marquee names gone from Aussie Open

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I could tell from the opening serve that something wasn’t quite right with Serena Williams. Granted I really hadn’t watched tennis much in recent months, but from what I remember this wasn’t the same Serena Williams.

Her cat-like quickness, and her explosive power, seemed diminished somewhat as she faced No. 14 seeded Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open Saturday night (or Sunday afternoon if going by Australian time). Shots that she normally made or even got to she was missing or was just a step slow. In the end, it was Ivanovic prevailing, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 over the No. 1 seeded player, thus denying Williams a chance at her sixth Australian and 18th Grand Slam title.

Williams’ serve, which has always been her strong point, became a target of Ivanovic, who noticed right away that it was lacking and not as fast as in the past. It turns out that Williams was nursing a back issue, something she tried to keep secret before her match with Ivanovic.

Williams hadn’t lost a match since August, and had never lost a set to Ivanovic. But the former French Open champion took it to Williams and played probably the match of her career. She did everything right in defeating Williams, and afterwards Williams, who at times in the past wasn’t always graceful in defeat, gave all the credit to Ivanovic.

“Again, I don’t want to blame anything,” Williams said in the post match press conference.” I feel like Ana deserves all the credit. I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots. It’s not like I gave her the match.”

Ivanovic had 33 winners, including 20 on her forehand side. On the flip side, Williams hit just 22 winners and made 31 unforced errors, mostly on her backhand.

“I made a tremendous amount of errors, shots...I haven’t missed since the ‘80s,” Williams said.

I was not only impressed with Ivanovic’s performance, but also with the grace that Williams showed in defeat. Even when the reporters continued to pressure her about how she lost, she didn’t want to talk about her injury. Instead, she credited Ivanovic with how she played.

This wasn’t the only major upset on the women’s side. Sunday night No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova defeated No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Sharapova, like Williams, seemed to be hampered by an injury which caused her to make 45 unforced errors. A hip strain turned out to be Sharapova’s downfall.

Two of the marquee names in women’s tennis were ousted within 24 hours of each other. The road to the women’s title now looks to go through No. 2 seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, looking to win a third consecutive title.

But with Williams and Sharapova both falling, it wouldn’t surprise me any if Azarenka is also bounced from the tournament.

Watching the Australian Open this past weekend made we realize why I love tennis and makes me sad that I neglected it these past few years. I think it’s time I got back together with this old love.



sports@sentinel-echo.com

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