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 R4.
NICK: Canada’s Corner Turned?
It seems more likely than not that we are witnessing the true arrival of Milos Raonic. After a 2015 season held back by injury, Raonic has started 2016 with a new coach, a rejuvenated spirit, and massive improvements in his game. The 25-year-old Canadian is now a force to reckon with at the net, is returning with much more success and is starting to introduce more variety from the back of the court.
What’s also impressive with Raonic is his emotional maturity and his tennis IQ. He never allows his emotions to fluctuate too far in either direction and is always committed to the primary task: winning the tournament.
Raonic plays Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals, where he will have an excellent opportunity to reach the second Grand Slam semifinal of his career.
SAM: Suarez Navarro’s Silent Streak
There’s something to be said for what Carla Suarez Navarro has done this week.
She hasn’t beaten anyone ranked ahead of her. She struggled for much of her opening round win over qualifier Viktorija Golubic. She had to come back to beat both Maria Sakkari in the second round and Daria Gavrilova in the fourth.
It hasn’t been pretty, but Suarez Navarro has gotten it done –something she hasn’t done recently in slams. 2015 was the best season of her career in many ways, but she failed to bring her best to any of the four biggest tournaments, losing in the first round in three of them (to Carina Witthoeft, Jelena Ostapenko, and Denisa Allertova: all good players but none that top players should be losing to — much less being served bagels and breadsticks by, which CSN was in all three).
The Spaniard finds herself up again Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals, which is a more interesting matchup than many are giving credit. Radwanska leads the head by just a 2-1 margin — and Suarez Navarro won their only meeting of last year, in the Miami Open round-of-16, 5-7, 6-0, 6-4. Don’t count Carla out.
Regardless of the result on Tuesday, this tournament can’t be called anything but a success for Suarez Navarro. And hey, if we’re going to be rough on her when she loses to players she shouldn’t, we shouldn’t completely ignore her when she lives up to her seeding. Good on you, Carla.
RENÉ: 100 — Starring Novak Djokovic
I have no idea how we all made it out of this match alive but we did.
In the fourth round, Gilles Simon managed to weave his web and lull Novak Djokovic into a state of leaking errors. The Serb played a weird, cagey match with a number of terrible drop shots at key moments and the Frenchman ran for his life, never offering Djokovic a huge amount of pace and angles. It was the best and the worst but most importantly perhaps, it was never in doubt as the top seed prevailed in the fifth set — but not without making it into triple digits.
On the one hand, I want to a see a 100 compilation — but I also don’t want to force any poor soul to watch it all over. Surely the good news for Djokovic (and his fans?) is that he got all the errors out of his system now.
Agnieszka Radwanska likely wouldn’t be standing opposite Carla Suarez Navarro on Tuesday if it wasn’t for an unfortunate fourth-round situation featuring Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam.
The unheralded German led Radwanska 7-6(6), 1-6, 5-2* in the fourth round before she was overcome by the effects of both a leg injury (which she received an MTO for) and cramping, which — as per the rules, she couldn’t. With Friedsam in tears, even resorting to attempting an underarm serve, she lost the next five games and Radwanska advanced to the quarterfinals.
The most contentious moment of the match came in the 5-5 game, when chair umpire Felix Torralba issued Friedsam two time violations — one early on and the second at 30-40. At Grand Slams, two time violations still amounts to a point penalty: concurrent to WTA rules but not ATP ones. Torralba didn’t have much of a choice — as the rules clearly state that extra time between points can’t be taken to recover a loss of condition. It was an unfortunate situation for all involved, and a harsh — but unavoidable — lesson for the German to learn with the world watching.
JEFF: The Week That Was
With the fourth round wrapped up – yes, already – both the men’s and women’s draws have shaped up their ‘business end’ quite nicely. On the women’s side, in spite of the plethora of upsets in the early stages of 2016’s first major, we’re lucky to have a quarterfinal lineup that (at least on paper) should entice the palate of any tennis fan.
But one of these things is not like the other.
Don’t see it? Here’s a hint.
While marquee names and matchups might be present in three of the four quarterfinals, the bottom quarter features two unseeded players who both benefitted from overcoming high quality players in the first round and emphatically backed up their upsets round after round.
Upon closer inspection, the other women’s quarterfinals may seem like a foregone conclusion: Serena hasn’t lost to Sharapova in 12 years, and Azarenka’s perfect record over Kerber has only gotten more perfect in 2016. Yet there’s something excitingly mysterious about an all-unseeded affair in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam.
Recent all-unseeded quarterfinals are as recent as the very last major: Roberta Vinci overcame Kristina Mladenovic two days prior to her legendary upset of Serena at the US Open. Current Top 15 player Belinda Bencic reached her first (and so far, only) quarterfinal a year prior when she was only 17, but lost to fellow ‘unseed’ Peng Shuai – who unforgettably had to retire from her subsequent semifinal due to heat illness — and has hardly played a singles match since.
Zhang Shuai and Johanna Konta are slated to play on Wednesday, and it could be a cracker given what an opportunity it is for both to make the semifinals. Both have played inspiring (and, occasionally, tearjerking) tennis this past week and the pressure and stakes on such a high profile stage might compel tennis – or eventually a career, #hottake – that neither knew they were capable of.