This is a guest post by sportswriter and broadcaster David Fearnhead about his favorite matches from Day 1 of the Australian Open.
Shortly before the 2016 Australian Open kicked off, the legendary Margaret Court declared women’s tennis had become “a little bit boring”. Well, if it has, I must be watching a different game. It’s only Day 1 and already the sport has cemented my continued affection.
There have already been upsets. Sam Stosur continued her homeland hoodoo, unable to break the curse, she made another early exit. And a bigger shock came with Caroline Wozniacki, an early faller against Yulia Putintseva.
Wozniacki, never one to lack honesty in her post-match interviews, declared it:
A pretty shitty start to the season.
A cruisey 6-1 first set for the Danish player might have had you fooled that this was a regulatory first-round match, but Putintseva had other ideas.
It wasn’t a pretty first set, but I got it done and really should have closed it off in two. You know, I let her back into the match, and it was basically my own fault that I’m not here as the winner.
Wozniacki may have put the blame firmly on herself, but you’ve got to give the credit to the Kazakh player, who recently celebrated her 21st birthday earlier this month. At 5 ft 4″ she resembles Cibulkova, at times so much so that you expect to hear a “Pome!” after a winning point. She held her nerve when many might have wobbled.
This was no fluke win. Putintseva caused upset here before, putting out Christina McHale in the first round of 2013, before exiting to a narrow three-set defeat by Carla Suarez Navarro. She could face off against Margarita Gasparyan in round three, if both carry their form into their second-round matches. I’ve been an admirer of Gasparyan for some time now, and her 2015 Baku performance shows she can win titles, but she hasn’t been able to prove herself consistently enough in the past. I hope this year will be a breakthrough one for her.
My match of the day was tucked away on Court 8. On paper you might have been tempted to give it to Heather Watson, but Timea Babos is a player with all the power and accoutrements you need to be a Top 20 player. She’s shown she has it on the doubles court, but today she looked fitter and more rocksteady than I’ve seen her in the past. When she pulled ahead in this tense match, there were fewer of those wobbles you’d expect from a player realising they were on the verge of progressing into the second round for the very first time. A poor choice of a drop shot which Watson easily cleaned up was a hint at the mental side of the game which had let her down in the past, but there was none of it this time. It seemed to quickly knock her back to her senses and quickly reverted to what was working for her.
Watson might well have thought she should have won this one herself, she had her chances, but this was a match of equals. In the end, Timea Babos had just enough to see her into an unprecedented second round having been unable to advance past the first round before. How far can she go? Another round is possible if she keeps believing in her game and trusting the talent she has. Interesting player to watch this year for sure.