Friday, January 20, 2006

Serena Falls To Hantuchova

For the first time in the last three years she entered, Serena Williams won't be holding the trophy down under. The much maligned American star was eliminated in the third round by Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 7-6 (5) Friday at Rod Laver Arena. The loss snapped a 16 match winning streak at Melbourne Park.

Williams- who won the Australian Open the last two times she played in '03 and '05- never found her game against the 17th ranked Hantuchova. Spraying shots all over the court, Williams made 37 unforced errors in the disappointing early exit.

"I had enough preparation, I was prepared. I just didn't play my best today," Williams pointed out at the postmatch conference. "I just was hitting balls every which direction. Just going everywhere. I didn't feel any of them."

"I just made a lot of errors today," she added. "I just couldn't find my shots at all. Like everything I was trying just wasn't working. It was just one of those days."

While she struggled to find her game at the start, a sharper Hantuchova hit kniving returns mostly from the forehand side. She took advantage of Williams' second serve, winning 20 of 29 points. Able to dictate points from the baseline, Hantuchova broke Williams and led 3-1 before a brief rain delay. But if Williams thought it would help, instead Hantuchova continued to play well, breaking Williams twice more enroute to an easy first set. It was the first time in four career matches she ever captured a set off Williams.

However, the second set would be much tougher for Hantuchova. With Williams predictably raising her level, it made for a very competitive set which lasted an hour. As Williams steadied, Hantuchova tightened up in the fifth game to give Serena her only break of the match. In fact, she converted her only break point. After holding for 4-2, Williams looked poised to force a third set. But instead of wilting Hantuchova held and then answered with a break to put the set back on serve.

With Hantuchova ahead 6-5, Williams faced triple match point but climbed out of it with some help from her opponent. Having fought off the first, Serena watched Hantuchova hesitate to play a backhand which landed on the baseline. Thinking that the ball would be called out, a surprised Hantuchova awkwardly played the shot out to keep Serena alive. Williams then aced her way out of trouble and finally forced a tiebreaker.

After Hantuchova raced out to a 3-0 two minibreak lead, Williams fought back to go ahead 4-3. But Hantuchova took the next three points to setup two more match points. Serena saved a fourth with a service winner, forcing Hantuchova to close it out. When a Williams return sailed long, Hantuchova had her biggest slam victory to reach the Round of 16 where she'll play fourth seeded Maria Sharapova.

Along with sister Venus ousted in the opening round by Tszvetana Pironkova, Serena's third round defeat was the earliest both have ever been eliminated in the same slam event.

On Day Six, third seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo advanced into the Round of 16 when her opponent Michaella Krajicek retired. After dropping the first set 6-2, Krajicek cited heat exhaustion due to grueling conditions. Mauresmo will face Czech Nicole Vaidisova (16), who ousted Italian Flavia Pennetta (20) 6-4, 6-2.

Patty Schnyder (7) moved on with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Aika Nakamura. Schnyder next faces Russian Anastasia Myskina (12), who defeated Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-1.

Martina Hingis continued her impressive comeback with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Iveta Benesova. She awaits the winner of Samantha Stosur-Sybille Bammer.

In other third round action, Francesca Schiavone (15) was taking on Maria Sanchez Lorenzo with the winner to play either Kim Clijsters (2) or Roberta Vinci.

Blake Fails To Deliver: Taking the court after Williams, American James Blake (20) couldn't back up his promise. Before the tournament, he mentioned that "for the first time in his career, he felt like a contender." Unfortunately for Blake, 16th seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo didn't oblige.

In a rematch from the '05 U.S. Open Round of 16 which Blake prevailed in four sets, Robredo exacted revenge with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 triumph. It was Robredo's first career win over Blake in five meetings.

Like Williams, Blake made too many errors against a quality foe. Overhitting the ball, Blake finished with 46 unforced errors while Robredo had just 14. Also similarly to Williams, Blake had problems winning points on his second serve, converting only 20 of 46.

Much like their match in New York, Blake got off to a slow start and was broken in the second game. The steadier Robredo made it stand up to claim the first set.

The second set saw Robredo continue to have the better of the play. With Blake trying to dictate points with punishing ground strokes, Robredo was content to get them back with some effective topspin which drew some miscues. After the two players exchanged breaks, Robredo broke again to take control. Serving for a two set lead, ironically, Robredo was in the same exact position he was at the Open last fall. But this time, he didn't falter and closed it out.

When Robredo broke for the fourth time early in the third frame, he had enough to finish off Blake. Though Blake didn't go away easily, Robredo came up with some difficult passing shots, including a lunging crosscourt forehand and another down the line on the dead run. Robredo finished with 24 winners.

Robredo will next face fourth seeded Argentian David Nalbandian, who bested Finn Jarkko Nieminen (26) in four sets 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

Tenth seeded Swede Thomas Johansson advanced to the Round of 16 with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon. He'll next face Croatian Ivan Ljubicic (7), who also made the fourth round for the first time in his slam career by eliminating Spaniard Feliciano Lopez (31) 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-0.

On Day Six, two Frenchmen setup a Round of 16 match-up. Sebastien Grosjean (25) ousted sixth seeded Argentine Guillermo Coria 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. He'll meet fellow countryman Paul-Henri Mathieu, who took out Luis Horna 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7), 6-1.

Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty (12) also advanced with a five set win over Russian Igor Andreev (23) 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Andreev, who was two games away from advancing fell victim to 100 degree heat. On match point, he didn't attempt to return Hrbaty's second serve up the middle. Hrbaty takes on the winner of Nikolay Davydenko (5)-Nathan Healey.

Fresh off his upset win of Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Ignacio Chela moved into Round Four with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Kristof Vliegen. He'll play the winner of Juan Carlos Ferrero (15)-Nicolas Kiefer (21).

Also advancing was German Tommy Haas, who eliminated Aussie Peter Luczak 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He'll play the winner of Roger Federer (1)-Max Mirnyi (30).

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