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May the Upset Be Ever in your Favor: The WTA, Down Under

New year, same Slam – on Day 1 of the Australian Open, the bottom half of the women’s draw blew wide open; half of the 16 seeds in action were sent packing. We’re taking a look at the cause and consequence of a wacky first day on the WTA – was it really that wacky?

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Ana Ivanovic. Angelique Kerber. Lucie Safarova. Carla Suarez-Navarro.

These are only some of the names who fell victim to what can only be described as a wipeout on the women’s side of the tournament. Within the first 10 hours, one higher-ranked player after another left court before their opponent, often with slumped shoulders, eyes fixed to the ground.

When the day session came to a close, the bottom half of the draw had lost eight of its sixteen seeds.

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Proceedings kicked off quickly; No. 32 seed Belinda Bencic went down to big-hitting – though often erratic – Julia Goerges. The Swiss struggled to live with the German’s relentless pace, failing to impose her game or outlast her opponent’s.

With barely a breath in between, Frenchwomen Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic upended No. 27, eternal headcase Svetlana Kuznetsova, and No. 28, inconsistent grass-expert Sabine Lisicki, respectively. Kuznetsova went off the rails, allowing Garcia to collect 10 of the last 12 games. Mladenovic bounced back after losing the first set of a match that can only be described as the typical Lisickicoaster.

Technically, these matches were upsets.

Hypothetically, each result was well within the realm of expectation.

Losing Top 10 players Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber, however, is what really opened doors in the draw.

Ivanovic had drawn Czech Lucie Hradecka in her opener – a match-up that hardly bothered the community at large, but one quickly pegged as potential trouble for the Serb. Just four months ago, the No. 5 seed had gone out to Hradecka’s countrywoman and fellow big server, Karolina Pliskova, in the second round of last year’s US Open.

The inevitable loss may not have surprised everyone, but it was still eye-opening – in all the wrong ways – to see Ivanovic nervous and overwhelmed by the middle of the match. The former No. 1 struggled to keep her already-wayward ball toss under control – going on to serve 10 double faults – and persistently rushed her forehand into the net.

In her post-match press conference, Ivanovic addressed those nerves, admitting her disappointment with her own performance. Last year’s quarterfinalist will not be forfeiting too many spots in the rankings, but she does have a lot of figuring out to do when it comes to the game’s biggest stages.

After so many years in the woods, it would be that much more tragic if the finally-resurgent Ivanovic continues to falter where it matters most.

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Kerber’s loss to Irina Camelia Begu was similarly shocking (unless you’re a TTI panelist with discerning taste). In a bizarre match, one that was points away from being an all breadstick and bagel affair, the German never seemed to find her mojo and found herself struggling with the Romanian’s aggression.

Perhaps the No. 9 seed was exhausted from her many three-set matches over the last two weeks, but even she didn’t seem to have a proper explanation for her loss. For Begu, it was her second big scalp at a Slam, having first defeated Caroline Wozniacki at the 2012 US Open.

The upsets continued. No. 17 Suarez-Navarro was outhit by young German Carina Witthoeft. No. 16 Safarova and No. 23 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova each bowed out in three sets. For the former, her match with Yaroslava Shedova went down to the wire; the Kazakh eventually came through, 8-6 in the final set.

As a result, the paths into the latter stages of the tournament have become decidedly simpler for the remaining big names in the bottom half of the draw – Halep, Bouchard, Sharapova – in theory at least. ‘Bourne Supremacist Ekaterina Makarova, along with the quickly improving Pliskova both have great shots to reach the quarterfinals.

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The question is whether we’ll continue to see big names dropped out of the tournament, or whether the survivors will stand their ground over the next few days. The are several unseeded (and looming) scenarios in the top half of the draw, particularly given that the first quarter – spearheaded by top seeds Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki – is loaded with dangerous floaters.

Going off of what happened last year, yesterday’s exodus was on the busier end of the spectrum, but hardly a complete surprise. In greater context, it wasn’t quite as wacky as it seemed.

In 2014, nearly all major draws turned on their heads in the first week; the start of the second often saw a wild mix of new faces, surprises and veterans. At this year’s Australian Open, I anticipated carnage in the women’s draw.

Carnage is what we’ve well and truly gotten thus far.

Days like these are entertaining; they often provide interesting stories, and no one should be shocked if the tournament continues to provide more (or less) surprising results.

But from today on, I’m hoping to see more of the big names through to the later stages. It would be to the benefit to the Australian Open and WTA (and ATP, for that matter), who both want and need marquee names at the business end of the majors. There is no denying that every tournament needs a few surprises, and it’s great to have new and familiar faces alike break through a draw and achieve career best result – but when the upsets becomes the norm, things become a litte problematic.

About René Denfeld (202 Articles)
Weather is my business. Tennis is my playground. Born in the year of the Golden Slam. Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have.

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