There’s suddenly a lot more breathing room in the women’s singles draw at Australian Open 2014. The elimination of a player as dominant as Serena Williams will do that.
As a result of Ana Ivanovic ousting Williams 4-6 6-3 6-3 on Sunday, Tuesday’s Melbourne Park spectators see the remaining title contenders from the top half of the draw. It's a diverse group – from 31-year-olds Li Na and Flavia Pennetta through 26-year-old Ivanovic to upstart Eugenie Bouchard, 19.
The latter, an English-Canadian from Francophone Montreal, spends a lot of time insisting she doesn’t “feel young.” That isn’t hard to believe, because she plays with exceptional poise and an innate sense that she belongs.
She also has a gift for sleeping – more than 12 hours the night before her match against Casey Dellacqua on Sunday – that suggests this teenager is kinda cool and unfazed by this whole Grand Slam tennis thing.
Bouchard and her opponent on Tuesday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena, Ivanovic, are two of the most prominent clothes horses on tour.
When Maria Sharapova withdrew from last year’s US Open, Nike quickly gave her dress – with an outline of the Manhattan skyline on it – to Bouchard. At Melbourne Park, she’s wearing a more demure outfit that she describes as “fashion-y.”
Ivanovic is sporting a nifty blue adidas dress, similar to the one she wore in 2008 when she reached the final. “I was very happy when I saw the colour,” she said with a smile on Sunday.
During a stretch in 2007-08, the 184cm Serb reached three Grand Slam finals out of five played, won the 2008 French Open and reached No. 1 in the rankings.
But a thumb injury kept her out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and a subsequent gradual loss of confidence resulted in her getting past the fourth round only once (2012 US Open quarter-finals) over the past 22 Grand Slams. “I had to break a spell – fourth round – and what better place to do it than here against such a champion,” she said on Sunday.
She and the 178cm Bouchard have played once – at Wimbledon last year when they received just 20 minutes notice, because of a withdrawal, that their No. 12 court match was moved into hallowed Centre Court. Bouchard was unruffled and won 6-3 6-3.
Today’s other quarter-final features veterans Li and Pennetta, with the Italian being older by one day. Their history dates back to 2000 when they played as 18-year-olds in Italy, then twice in 2006 (Gold Coast and Sydney) and once (Sydney) in 2010.
Compatible off the court as part of the ‘older’ generation, Li and Pennetta are 2-2 head-to-head.
In men’s quarter-final action on Tuesday, Novak Djokovic hopes to avoid a repeat of 12 months ago when Stanislas Wawrinka extended him to 12-10 in the fifth set in a night match marathon, while Tomas Berdych, the men’s fashion plate of the 2014 tournament in his H&M broad-striped shirt, takes on the indefatigable David Ferrer.
All today’s matches will inevitably end, and when Bouchard’s does, she hopes to be receiving a keepsake. So far her ‘Genie’s Army’ has given her a stuffed koala, a stuffed kangaroo and a stuffed kookaburra after her wins. What could it be today if she beats Ivanovic – wombat, echidna, cockatoo?
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Li vs Pennetta
Their birthdays are separated by one day in February 1982; Li is younger than Pennetta, and is also a two-time Aussie Open finalist with more game. Li in two.
Djokovic vs Wawrinka
A year ago, Djokovic spent almost every bit of his energy in outdueling Wawrinka 12-10 in the fifth set. This time he's more expeditious. Djokovic in three.
Bouchard vs Ivanovic
Ivanovic has been through two emotional matches – Stosur and Williams – while Bouchard has quietly been progressing … toward a semi-final berth. Bouchard in three.
Ferrer vs Berdych
If Berdych plays as well as he looks in his fashionable striped shirt, he’ll win. But plain-clothed, dogged Ferrer is not impressed. Ferrer in five.