Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dominika upsets Maria

The first of the fourth round women's singles matches on Rod laver Arena on Day 8 pitted 3rd seed Maria Sharapova against 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.  Apart from the marathon three plus hour second round match, Maria had looked in good form, while Slovakian Dominika had cleaned up her last two opponents for the loss of only two games in total across the matches.  So this match promised plenty, Dominika having beaten Maria once at Grand Slam level but on clay at Roland  Garros some years back.  Dominika was given a step ladder in order to shake hands with Maria at the coin toss.  The height difference - 11 inches - probably has nothing to do with anything but it made for a good photo.
Domi won the first battle and chose to serve - then she lost her serve.  Maria started well putting Domi under pressure with powerful groundstrokes limiting the ability to move forward and cut off the severe angles that the Russian was adding to the depth of shot.
Maria was also unconvincing on serve and could well have been down break points had Domi not stuffed up the 15-30 point.  Maria survived to tell the story but it wasn't very interesting except for maybe the off forehand which was quite pretty to watch.
0-2 and not wanting the first set to career away without her as a passenger, Domi tightened up her court movement, in turn enabling her to move Sharapova around some, and open up the opportunity to rifle a couple of forehand winners down the line.  It was impressive although Maria did not congratulate her upon registering a score on the board.
The spring in the Slovak step continued into the next Sharapova serve which was subject to break points.  Caught up in the excitement and anticipation, Domi lost focus and the game and Maria retained the edge of a break.
Despite a time violation warning and a ball that didn't bounce, Domi held serve again to trail by just 2-3, but Maria still looked to have the answers although no one knew precisely what questions were being addressed.  The ability of Sharapova to reach the best angled shots from Cibulkova and put them cross court or down the line to her own advantage was not always displayed but when shown was a stark reminder to everyone, and importantly Domi that a few of the Russian weapons required a white flag response and applause.

Serving at 2-4, Domi encountered one of those white flag moments when Maria just pounded returns and bashed winners to which there was no winning response.  The break occurred and with Maria serving at 5-2 for the set, the reality of how difficult the fourth round assignment was for Domi became clearer than ever.

Another "weapon" that Maria has is the ability to fold when serving for matches or sets.  So that skill was freely given a run for us all, and games were now 3-5.  The service game from hell briefly gave life to Domi and to the first set, how brief we would discover a few points later in a game pretty much as good for Domi on serve as the one previously for Maria.
Sum total of all that incompetence - Sharapova won the first set 6-3 to take a powerful match position, serving first in the second.
I don't know which worm turned but something happened between Maria winning the first set and Maria serving in the second.  Her serving reliability collapsed and her forehand potency dried up, it's accuracy diminished beyond recognition.
A single forehand winner could not mitigate the horrible set of mistakes ending with a glorious double fault.  Cibulkova led 1-0.
Confidence built exponentially for Slovakia while Russia just wanted to find a hole to hide in.  Happy to serve and happy to pick up all the broken pieces of a Russian serve gone wrong, Domi raced to a 5-0 lead and all that Maria could do was think of the final set and hope that she could regroup in time.
However the twist to the tail came with the inability of Dominika to serve out the set.
Twice she tied and twice she was thwarted, and credit to Sharapova who quickly sensed a chance to build a momentum, if not to win the second set, certainly to surf into the last on some sort of wave.
On Domi's third attempt to win the set, now at 5-4, Maria hit two shocking returns which released some pressure, but a double fault on the first set point brought it back.  Finally, an off forehand which Maria could only help into the net gave the set to Dominika and sets were one apiece.
Maria had a medical time out but she may as well have stayed off court for all the good she contributed on court in the final set.  Straight away she was broken by Dominika who was controlling everything now, possibly even calling the scores before long.  Two double faults in the first service game assisted the break of serve and Dominika Cibulkova won five of the next six games, every second of the match now having an inevitability about its result.
Into the quarter final of the Australian Open for the first time, Domi had upset Maria 3-6 6-4 6-1

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