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TTI Slam-Cast: Best of the 2016 Australian Open (Third Round)

Welcome back to Slam Cast, a new segment at TTI for 2016! Following each round at a Grand Slam, the each member of the TTI crew will get together and deliver our favorite moment from the previous round — a (moderately witty) observation, a match that we want to rave about, a player that let us down, etc. Without further ado, we present TTI Slam Cast: Australian Open R2.

NICK: Madison Keys’ Forehand — a double-edged sword

Madison Keys hits one of, if not, the hardest forehands on the planet — man or woman. When her timing is on and she makes clean contact, she can hit a winner from any location on the court. But similar to Sloane Stephens’ forehand, it can devolve into a major liability when pressured with pace, spin and depth. Keys’ forehand is tricky because her racket travels behind the front side of her body before coming forward, meaning that her strings aren’t moving towards the direction of the ball for as long as possible. It also causes her body and racket to be out of sync.

Again, when she’s able to time it properly, it’s a truly remarkable shot — but over the course of seven matches against the best players in the world, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for that shot to stand up. Her fourth round opponent, Zhang Shuai, may have enough firepower in her own game to really force the American to come up big off her forehand wing.

Keys is only 20 years old, and I personally would love to see her shorten her back swing a bit to have this shot resemble Serena’s forehand more. Serena’s forehand has stood the test of time and continues to do so even as she approaches the latter part of her career.

SAM: The World According to Dasha

The third round wasn’t exactly full of thrillers, but Daria Gavrilova and Kristina Mladenovic sure delivered one on Friday. I’m not sure what the future holds for these two, but based on this match, I can comfortably say I would welcome many more meetings between them at Grand Slams. Both fought back from various deficits, came up clutch to stay even in the third, and gave it their absolute all in what was easily the best match of the round.

Gavrilova eventually prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 to reach a fourth round matchup with Carla Suarez Navarro. I think that’s winnable for the young Aussie, and it’s amazing to think that in just her sixth appearance at a major she could find herself in the quarterfinals. I find it fascinating how quickly she’s been embraced by Australia; in fact, the crowds this week are far more engaged in her matches than many I’ve seen for Sam Stosur or any other female Aussies — even Casey Dellacqua in a 2014 run not completely dissimilar to Gavrilova’s this week.

When you think about it though, it makes sense. Gavrilova gives a crowd everything it wants and needs: flash, fire, and fun. Her combustible nature and always GIFable reactions make it easy to see why she’s emerged as such a fan favorite in the last 12 months. While Stosur, Dellacqua and other veterans have the love and respect of the crowds in Melbourne, they’ve never been able to create the special spark that the 21-year-old Gavrilova has forged in one special week.

Moments like this don’t hurt, either:

RENÉ: The Last Unseeded Standing

Out of a quarter headlined by Rafael Nadal, Jeremy Chardy — and to a certain extent Fernando Verdasco — emerges….. Andrey Kuznetsov.

Fess up: who of you predicted that? Probably no one, Kuznetsov included.

The World No. 74 is the only unseeded player to make it into the second week of the men’s singles draw. The 24-year-old, the second youngest player among the last 16, had a strong finish to 2015 on the challenger level and played Nadal tough in Doha, so this might not as far out of left field as it seems. There wasn’t much missing from an all-unheralded fourth round either, as Stephane Robert essentially led Gael Monfils in every set of their very entertaining, all-French third round tussle.

Kuznetsov didn’t have to beat the biggest of names but he dispatched (a possibly slightly tired) Chardy in straight sets and took care of the business against Dudi Sela and Ryan Harrison (this could have been you in the 4th Round, dude). For Kuznetsov, it’s a career result and will catapult him to a new career-high ranking — but looking at the bigger picture of the men’s game, one can’t help but feel that through all the fanfares of the “greatest era in tennis ever,” things have gotten pretty stale.

Where some people complain that the women’s draw has too many surprises in the fourth round, the men’s draw is lacking them big time and could certainly do with another Kuznetsov here or there. It doesn’t even feel like the men’s tournament has started at all, to quote fellow Islander Jeff.

VIKA: Beck’s Big Breakthrough

It’s been pretty cool to see Annika Beck succeed Down Under, as the young German is into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time. Beck hasn’t dropped a set in three rounds in defeating wildcard Priscilla Hon, Timea Bacsinszky and compatriot Laura Siegemund — who upset Jelena Jankovic in the previous round.

Beck had a strong finish to 2015 which started off miserably for her, to be frank. She was 3-13 on the season by the time Roland Garros came around, but upset Agnieszka Radwanska there and reached the final in Florianopolis and claimed her second career title in Quebec City in the summer and fall, respectively. Currently sitting just outside the Top 50, this run Down Under puts her at No. 39 in the live rankings — a new career-high.

More impressive than the run itself is how Beck’s done it. Having watch a bit of her first three rounds, the 21-year-old has displayed immense clarity on court — a marked difference from the past year. The German has mixed the perfect balance of defense and offense, going for the right winner at the right times; too often in the past year, Beck was either too defensive, or tried to be too offensive, which isn’t her game either.

Beck will face off against another compatriot, Angelique Kerber, in the fourth round — and I’m excited to see how Beck will fare against the left-handed version of the player she should aspire to be.

JEFF: #SaturdayNightShots, SlamCast Edition

Three rounds done, four rounds to go. It’s hard to believe that the 2016 season has even begun let alone being half-way finished its first major.

That being said, there’s been approximately three full weeks of tennis and we’ve already had five (I repeat, FIVE) shots around the net, all of them taking place within the period of a week.

Let’s be clear, these aren’t easy shots to pull off — for two reasons. The first, and most obvious one is a player’s ability to hit with accuracy; it requires a mastery of spin and adept hand-eye coordination to thread the needle. The second is that a player can’t even hit the shot (as governed by the laws of physics) without the proper angle afforded to them by their opponent. So no, not even Nadal’s legendary “banana shots” can curve around the net if his positioning is inside the court.

The main show courts of Melbourne are unique in that they are, well, huge. There’s plenty of space to track down acutely angled shots for the game’s best movers and, on an imaginary aesthetic level, it seems like there’s more court geometry to work with.

The result? Five awesome around-the-net shots. That’s more in one week than we’ve seen in an entire year. Let’s recap, GIF-style.

1. Andy Murray (vs. Alexander Zverev, R1)

murrayaroundthenet

2. Serena Williams (vs. Su-wei Hsieh, R2)

serenaaroundthenet

3. Quentin Halys (vs. Novak Djokovic, R2)

halysaroundthenet

4. Victoria Azarenka (vs. Danka Kovinic, R2)

azarenkaaroundnet

5. Milos Raonic (vs. Viktor Troicki, R3)

raonicaroundthenet

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