Melbourne | The great Dane fightback
Caroline Wozniacki credited her competitive family for the fighting spirit that helped her recover from a seemingly impossible position against Jana Fett in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.
A clear favourite for the title, Wozniacki had to fight back from 1-5 down in the third set and 15-40 against the World No 119 from Croatia under the hot sun in Melbourne to keep her championship hopes alive.
I don’t know how I did it. I’m just relieved to be through. I battled for every point and never gave up. I was rewarded for that today Caroline Wozniacki
In fact, the Dane survived two match points and then mounted an epic comeback, reeling off six games in a row to win 3-6 6-2 7-5 and a place in the third round.
“I don’t know how I did it. I’m just relieved to be through. I battled for every point and never gave up. I was rewarded for that today,” said Wozniacki later.
“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament. She served a great serve down the T. It was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.
“Then I felt her tighten up just slightly. I thought to myself, ‘Make her win it, don’t give it to her’. When I managed to get it to 5-2, I said, ‘Okay, I’m still alive. She still has four more balls to win’.
“She’s about to beat the number two player in the world. Obviously she’s about 100 in the world. That’s a big moment for her. I know how it feels whenever you’re close to reaching something really big. I’m very proud of the way I came back.”
It was Fett’s first AO outing and the 21-year-old Croatian simply outplayed the former World No 1 for much of the match, playing some brilliant shots throughout the contest and rattling off eight straight points to win the opening set in 33 minutes.
Fired by the first of two rows with umpire Richard Haigh over delayed challenges, Wozniacki worked her way back into contention to take the second when Fett hit a return long.
The Croatian refused to fade away, though, and Wozniacki threw her racket to the ground in disgust after being broken for 3-1 with Fett driving home her advantage to stand on the brink of the third round.
Fett twice served for the match but nerves got the better of her and Wozniacki took full advantage to set up a third-round meeting with Belgian Kiki Bertens, who dispatched American Nicole Gibbs,7-6(3) 6-0.
The Dane looked every inch the World No 2 as she briskly served out for victory, which came when a crestfallen Fett dumped a backhand into the net after a shade over two and a half hours in the hot sun on Rod Laver Arena.
“That was crazy, I don’t know how I got back into the match,” said a relieved Wozniacki.
”She’s a tricky opponent, she had nothing to lose, and I think she realised she was at 5-1 and she let off the speed a little bit.
“I thought, ‘this is my last chance and I’ll have to go on the attack’. Then things were going my way and I thought ’ this is my chance’.”
“Experience was crucial today,” added Wozniacki, who is on her 11th visit to Melbourne Park as she continues her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title.
“I’ve been out here so many times and I knew how she would feel being out here against me and having the chance to win.”
Fourth seed Elina Svitolina also had to fight the heat and an early setback as she came through to beat Katerina Siniakova, 4-6 6-2 6-1, in the opening match of the Day 3 on Rod Laver Arena.
Svitolina dropped a fiercely contested first set but battled back as her previously impressive opponent began to fade.
Of the six women capable of finishing the Australian Open fortnight with the No 1 ranking, it is perhaps the Ukrainian who is the least known.
Simona Halep is the incumbent, and Wozniacki, Garbiñe Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova have all been there before, while Jelena Ostapenko, like Muguruza, is a reigning Grand Slam champion.
The dogged Svitolina won five WTA singles titles last year, the most on tour, and started the year positively by remaining undefeated at the Brisbane International.
On this day, the talented 23-year-old had to survive a serious challenge from 59th-ranked Katerina Siniakova, recovering from a shaky start and withstanding some heavy, if erratic, hitting to prevail under the roasting conditions.
“I thought I’m gonna melt today,’’ Svitolina admitted. “It wasn’t easy, and I was struggling today. Hopefully I can recover. Can’t wait for ice bath.
“I thought she was playing great first set. I gave her just one break… It was my kind-of mistake, so hopefully next round I will be more focused.’’
Later Svitolina revealed that she had been feeling less than 100 per cent due to illness and it had been a question whether she would even be able to take her place in the first round.
“I’m relieved that I won today. In the end it doesn’t give me the opportunity to play well. I played good tennis in the first match, so you never know. It’s a new day.”
She earned 20 break points, but could convert only 6, hit 9 aces among 22 winners to 30, and was overpowered at times by the aggressive Siniakova, the 2013 Australian Open junior finalist who is also an accomplished doubles exponent, was a finalist in Shenzhen and one of eight Czech women in the main draw.
In the end Svitolina proved to be the steadier player, and ultimately the successful one, advancing in 2 hours, 14 minutes to the all-Ukrainian affair with Marta Kostyuk, the precocious 15-year-old qualifier who has already toppled 25th seed Peng Shuai and Australian Olivia Rogowska without dropping a set to make such a splash on her debut.
The youngest player in both singles draws will be no pushover, and Svitolina will need to raise a level than then one she displayed against Simiakova, who was undone by 56 unforced errors.
Surprisingly, Svitolina said she had not heard of Kostyuk until her win on day one: “It’s good, it’s pretty cool that I’m playing someone from my country. Yeah, it’s gonna be very exciting for me and hopefully I can be ready for that match.
“It’s not every day that I can play someone who’s from my country. And especially for Ukrainian supporters it’s going to be fun to watch, I guess.’’
Kostyuk became the youngest player to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in over 20 years following her 6-3 7-5 win over Rogowska, and she is the youngest player to reach a Grand Slam third round since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the 1997 US Open.
“I’m happy, just happy – I made it through,” said Kostyuk, who remains relatively unfazed for a player whose reputation is growing with each passing victory, perhaps because of her manager, Roger Federer’s coach Ivan Ljubicic.
“I beat some records or repeat them every year, so I feel okay,” she said.
“Ivan is always helping me when he sees me. After every match he’s telling me what was wrong – not everything is right even when I win.”
Seed slayers Belinda Bencic and Zhang Shuai were brought back down to earth as they both failed to follow up their first-round successes.
Swiss Bencic, who knocked out last year’s runner-up Venus Williams on a day of shocks on Monday, slumped to a 6-1 6-3 defeat to Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum.
Zhang, conqueror of US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round, was also toppled by a qualifier in the shape of Czech Republic’s Denisa Allertova. Allertova won 6-4 7-6(5).
For former World No 7 Bencic, now down at 78 after battling back from wrist surgery, it was a sudden comedown after the highs of Monday when she outplayed seven-times Grand Slam champion Williams.
“It was not the issue that I was still thinking about the Venus win,” the 20-year-old said. “I had re-set and focused but it was a tough second round. I’ve played her a few times and it’s always been really difficult.
“But I‘m still pretty positive. The start to the year has been better than I could have imagined.”
Luksika, ranked 124th in the world, produced a masterful display to reach the third round of a major for the first time having twice reached the second round of the Australian Open.
She said she hoped her win would stimulate some interest in the game in Thailand.
“My dad is a tennis coach and when [former World No 9] Paradorn Srichaphan was doing well he always had a lot of young players wanting to learn,” she added.
Luksika will face Croatian Petra Martic next while Allertova is up against Magda Linette of Poland.
French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko is the youngest player in the top 10 and hails from Latvia, a nation where she is now very famous.
She no longer has the luxury of slipping under the radar, as she discovered against fellow big-hitter Ying-Ying Duan and the feisty 20-year old had to fight hard for her 6-3 3-6 6-4 second-round win.
“Everybody wants to beat you now and everybody is preparing so well to play against you,” she said. “It’s a little bit tougher this year, but I’m still really happy with my performance.”
Victory over the 100th-ranked Chinese player pits her into an all-Baltic third-round showdown with huge-hitting Estonian Kaia Kanepi, a 6-4 6-3 winner over Olympic gold medallist Monica Puig.
Ostapenko looked every bit the woman ready to bear the weight of expectation when she took down Francesca Schiavone in the battle of Roland Garros champions for the loss of five games in the opening round.
Despite dropping her opening serve against Duan on Wednesday, her all-or-nothing blows began to find their mark once more as she broke to love with a searing backhand down the line.
The winners began to fly from Ostapenko’s strings as she brought up two set points with a monster forehand cross-court, sealing it 6-3 with her third ace.
A beefed-up serve is the next important weapon necessary in the Ostapenko arsenal, and to help her achieve this, she now has an Australian coach on her team, David Taylor, who coached Sam Stosur to her 2011 US Open title, and he looked pretty impressed with his charge when it came to the crunch.
“Yeah, it’s great. He’s a great coach, he’s very experienced,” Ostapenko said of Taylor. “I think we’re doing well.”
Casualties of the day among the seeded women included Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (15) of Russia, who lost to Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-2 6-3, Germany’s Julia Goerges (12) at the hands of Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, 6-4 6-3, and Daria Kasatkina (22), another Russian, sent home by the Pole Magda Linette, 7-6(4) 6-2.