Google Down the Line!: 2010-01-24

Saturday, January 30, 2010

PREVIEW: Australian Open Men's Final

(1) Roger Federer vs. (5) Andy Murray
Head-to-Head: 4 Fed, 6 Muzz
Last meeting: '09 WTF (indoor hard), Fed 3-6, 6-3, 6-1

Top seed Roger Federer will look to add No. 16 to his Grand Slam haul (and bury the memories of last year's post-match meltdown) when he battles fifth seed Andy Murray for the Aussie Open title on Sunday.

The Swiss stylist seems to have rounded into form at just the right time especially after a tough opening round match where he lost the first set to Igor Andreev. His movement has been exceptional so far; he's moving fluidly around the court which has allowed him to control points with his blistering forehand and play matches on his own terms. Moreover, Fed has come through a number of tight moments in his matches by serving well and hitting his spots nicely.

Muzz has been the in-form baller this tourney stampeding out of the gates like a man on a mission - and he is. The Brit is still looking for his first Grand Slam title after falling in his major final debut to the Swiss at the '08 U.S. Open. He's continued to play his style of counter-punching tennis but has added a bit more aggression to his game, going for more winners than we're used to seeing from him. In fact he's cracked more winners so far this tourney than Fed (302-289) and didn't even play a full match in the quarterfinals due to Rafael Nadal's injury-induced retirement. Now there's a game changer.

So, I think it would be safe to say there's probably no love lost between these two ballers. The Swiss, in particular, seems to have a dislike for Muzz's play but knows it's a game that can get the better of him if he's not focused. "I always felt, you know, if I played well, I had my chance," said the 15-time Grand Slammer. "If I don't play well, I'm gonna lose, you know. It's been against many sort of counterpunchers, guys that keep the ball in play." It's a good bet then that the H2H in Muzz's favor feels like salt in his wounds.

The fifth seed knows he'll need to be at his top level if he's to win his first Grand Slam and will surely draw confidence from those past wins over the world's top baller. "I mean, anytime you win against him is great, you know," said Muzz. "If it's one win somewhere, if it was one win against nine losses, it would be a little bit different. But that's not the case. I'm gonna need to play my best match ever." Indeed he will.

There's no doubt the Brit baller has a shot at winning this match. He'll need to come out strong and not fall behind early or Fed will smell blood - and we all know what a tremendous front-runner he is. And, unlike Juan Martin del Potro's performance in Flushing Meadows last season, Muzz won't be able to hit through the Swiss so he'll need to stay close in the sets by holding his serve and take the opportunities he's given. It will definitely need to be the best match of his career if he's going to win.

That being said it's hard to pick against the 3-time champ going for his 16th major title. He looked to be in full flight against a subdued Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during his semifinal win (his record 23rd straight Grand Slam final four appearance, BTW) and will be determined to close the gap on their H2H by taking his third straight over Muzz. Fed will need to be mindful of his serving since he'll be facing arguably the best returner in the game right now. I'm pretty sure he's not interested in reliving the serving nightmare that was last year's final. But if all aspects of the Swiss' ethereal game are clicking, he'll be tough to beat.

Advantage, Fed.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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I feel amazing. I feel like it happened but it hasn't happened, so it's really kind of cool. I really am in the moment right now.

- Serena Williams on winning her fifth Aussie Open crown and 12th major title (tying Billie Jean King on the all-time list) by defeating Justine Henin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2

Congrats ReRe on coming through on an even year and defending your title - so much for superstitions. Must be nice to be the only woman in the Open Era to win five titles here, huh?

[Photo(s): Getty]

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Friday, January 29, 2010

PREVIEW: Australian Open Ladies' Final

(1) Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin
Head-to-head: 7 Serena, 6 Justine
Last meeting: Miami (hard), Serena 6-2, 6-0

Just a few thoughts on the Aussie Open ladies' final pitting top seed Serena Williams against unseeded Justine Henin, appearing in only her second tourney since returning to the tour. It's their first meet up at this Slam and it happens to be their first major final battle EVAH. I mean, they couldn't have planned it better if they tried, no?

One of the most intriguing aspects to me about this renewed rivalry is not the obvious physical one (ReRe has the clear advantage there, duh) but the heady stuff, more specifically the mental edge Justine had over ReRe before her retirement and may still have now after almost two years away.

The Belgian had her most successful year on tour in 2007 capturing 10 titles including 2 majors - Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. She impressively defeated ReRe in three consecutive quarterfinals beginning at the French Open and tied up their H2H which was sitting at 6-3 before that run.

Justine, a 7-time major winner, was clearly the dominant lady baller on the WTA tour and grabbed the momentum in this heated rivalry. She managed to match ReRe's on-court intensity but, more importantly, brought the aggression to her which she said was difficult earlier on. "We had great battles in the past," said Justine. "We played our best tennis when we played each other. At the beginning it was quite difficult for me to face Serena. Then slowly but surely I could change it a little more." The Belgian was now forcing the issue in their matches which isn't the easiest prospect when facing ReRe's power plays.

The American exacted some revenge at the Sony Ericsson Open in 2008 dismantling Justine 6-2, 6-0 on her way to the title there. But as we all know, the 27-year old was already on her way out, though a win's a win and should help ReRe in this match where head + heart could make all the difference. "It definitely will be mental and who wants it more and wants the title more and who's willing to go the extra step," said ReRe. The American knows Justine can equal her on-court efforts even admitting she "definitely think[s] of her as a rival" in her presser. No easy words for the prideful 11-time major champ.

Normally, the top seed would have the advantage on this surface because she plays better on hard courts, owning a 4-1 advantage over her Belgian foe, and loves the Aussie atmosphere as evidenced by her four titles here. She looked completely spent after clinching her semifinal against Na Li, however, and hasn't had a day off since winning her fourth rounder (playing doubles and winning the title will do that to ya.) And, based on her obvious mummification (her wrist is now taped up too) she's hurting in more ways than one.

On the flip side, Justine went the distance early in the tourney but managed straight-setters in her last two outings including a 51-minute rout of Zheng Jie in the final four. She looks fresh both physically and mentally and will draw on the belief that she can stand toe-to-toe with ReRe. There's no doubt she's hungry to join the Grand Slam winner's circle again by defeating her greatest rival on one of the biggest stages in tennis.

A lesser lady baller might wilt under the pressure of playing even a bandaged ReRe but not this Belgian. She knows what's up.

Advantage, Justine.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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Rafa out four weeks with knee injury, pulls out of Rotterdam

Rafael Nadal will be out a total of 4 weeks to recover from the knee injury he sustained during his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray at the Aussie Open.

The Majorcan Matador suffered a minor tear to a tendon in his right knee and will need 2 weeks to rehabilitate the knee and will return to training over the following 2 weeks. He has pulled out of Rotterdam which begins on February 8.

He said this injury is different than the one that forced him out of his Wimbledon defense in 2009:

"As I said in Melbourne after the game... I knew the injury wasn't the same as the one I suffered last year.

"I am feeling well and am only thinking about how long it will take me to recover. I am disappointed to be missing the Rotterdam tournament. It is an event I would like to have won as I nearly did last year.

"I'm not overly worried about my ranking... all I want to do is to feel good on the court again, something I had achieved in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Melbourne where I was competing to a high standard."

I'd say this news is pretty good Rafanatics. Yeah, it's a month but the injury could've been a lot worse and taken a longer time to recover.

Here's to a speedy recovery Rafa!

[Photo(s): Getty]

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Roger Federer or Serena Williams? You decide.

Roger Federer seems to have taken a page out of "The Life & Times of Serena Williams" during the post-match presser that followed his 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Aussie Open semifinals today. Or maybe it's something in the Nike water.

In any case, she couldn't have said it better herself:

Q. You've won finals against Andy, but he's got the better record. Why do you think that is?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, because, first of all, he's a good player. I don't think otherwise you're just gonna start having good records against me.

But, no, without having any ‑‑ taking anything away from him, but I think a few times he played me I wasn't at my very, very best. I think I played him on a couple of occasions. Dubai the first time we played, I just came back from resting, my mono, and everything. I know some don't like to hear it. Some still don't believe me for some reason.

I played him maybe at times when I wasn't at my very, very best. We had some close matches on many occasions where I thought I was in control and I ended up giving the match away by making errors of my own. That was definitely because of his play and the way he plays.

So I think the head‑to‑head could be quite different. But that's why I don't really care too much about how the head‑to‑head stands. Every match is played differently. Best‑of‑five is anyway very different. He's done well against me to win so many matches when he was able to beat me when he was supposed to.

I LOVE when people apologize first before slapping you in the face.

Anyway it seems Fed still has little respect for Muzz's game, the game that holds a winning edge in their H2H (6-4). It must be the counter-punching style that gets under his silky Swiss skin.

Me thinks someone else should shut their pie hole and just play.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

MEDIA MASHUP: Dude, shut your pie hole

"It won't shut. No, seriously."

Andy Murray
gave us his best "O" face after hitting an unbelievably sick passing shot by a helpless Marin Cilic during his semifinal win over the Croat last night at the Aussie Open.

I guess if this tennis thing doesn't pan out he could put that hole to work.

Here's a clip of that shot in case you missed it:

[Photo(s): Getty, video: TheRick1993]

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PHOTO OP: NaturAna does dorky good

Some images of Ana Ivanovic featured on the exterior of sponsor Verano's ZIRA shopping centre in Belgrade.

I love seeing the Serb at her most dorkalicious. But question: did the hair come with that helmet?


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THE LOW DOWN: Croatian fan gets on court, shakes hands with Marin - so when will this end?

A Croatian fan managed to get onto the tennis court last night after Andy Murray's 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Marin Cilic in the Aussie Open semifinals.

He was eventually carted away by security but not before he was able to get close enough to shake hands with his compatriot, recalling last year's U.S. Open when an excited fan ran onto the court and planted a smooch on Rafael Nadal before security took him away and Roland Garros when a man tried to put a flag on Roger Federer during the final.

As you can see in this photo below the security in yellow (is being bald a prerequisite for this job?) seemed a bit frozen in their tracks even after he got what the 21-year old called a "present":

Q. Did you have somebody come up to you out of the stands and shake your hand?

MARIN CILIC: I think the fan got excited and he wanted to shake my hand, so... I gave him a present.

Q. What did you give him?

MARIN CILIC: Nothing. I shook his hand.

Q. He had a Croatian jumper on.

MARIN CILIC: Right, he was happy.

Okay these incidents are driving me fucking bonkers. I mean, it's good to see Marin taking it in stride but this is a big issue that needs to be addressed. Even if the ballers don't react negatively in the moment it must be a little worrisome at some level to see how easy it is for anyone in the stands to reach them. It's one thing for someone in the stands to get on court but a whole other thing to get on court and make contact with a baller. The security must have had an opportunity to stop him before he got to Marin but they failed.

How many times does this need to happen before the ITF takes a hard look at their security procedures at matches and makes real improvements? Does someone need to be harmed again before they make a concerted effort to protect the ballers? After incidents at three of the four majors you'd think they'd realize there's a big problem.

This particular fan is not even sprinting or even jogging around the court - he's moving around with ease. This is not acceptable. At all.

[Photo(s): Getty, AP]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PHOTO OP: So close we can taste it

UGH. You guys are going to make me eat my words, aren't you? Fine, just be gentle.

[Photo(s): Reuters]

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It was unfortunate that I couldn't perform on the level that I wanted to in the fourth and fifth set. I don't want to find excuses for my loss, but, you know, I went to vomit and I had diarrhea before the match. Just a terrible feeling.

- Novak Djokovic after his 7-6(8), 6-7(5), 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Aussie Open quarterfinals

No comment.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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PHOTO OP: Vika's best bitchface


Victoria Azarenka played the best set and a half of her entire life in the Aussie Open quarterfinals but then she remembered she was playing Serena Williams.

The Belarussian basher had ReRe running all over the court by ripping her backhand at will and breaking down the defending champ's forehand. But after falling down a set and 0-4 the top seed upped her game (what level WAS that?) in a classic display of tenacity and grit hitting return winners off first serves and moving more freely around the court securing a 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 win. She'll face Na Li, who edged out sister Venus Williams, in the first error-strewn quarterfinal.

Vika played a great match and didn't falter in the stretch. It was ReRe's ability to find another gear in her game and surpass anything the 20-year old could throw at her. We've all seen this play before I don't think it was surprising - even to Vika:

Q. Serena said she thought she was gone at 4‑Love. Did you think you had her as well?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: 4‑Love. Not really. I know she's gonna fight until the last point. She started playing unbelievable, I think, from 4‑Love. I don't know. I don't know if she really felt that way, because she started playing really good.

Good to see Vika's great attitude during and after this loss, which has to be somewhat disappointing. But she mostly kept her shit together and will no doubt breakthrough soon.

[Photo(s): Reuters]

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rafa succumbs to injury, retires from Aussie Open quarterfinal match

Rafael Nadal's Aussie Open defense came to an abrupt end today when the Matador was forced to retire from his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray with a knee injury trailing 6-3 7-6(2) 3-0. The Brit baller, who has reached his first semifinal in Oz, will now face Marin Cilic for a spot in the final.

The 6-time Grand Slammer was already down 2 sets in this high quality match when he called the trainer to examine his knee with the score at 0-2 in the third. He returned to the court, lost the next game and called it quits.

Rafa discussed the injury in his post-match presser:

Q. Could you let us know what the condition is, what the latest story is with the knee. It's very unusual for you to stop during a match.

RAFAEL NADAL: Yes, well, is not a lot of history because was during the match. Was in the end of the second set in one drop. And I feeled similar thing to what I had last year.

And, yes, after that I can't go down after that, no? So was impossible to win the match. When I have the chance to play, I never retired. Anyway, like I know I going to lose like I did in Rotterdam like last year. I say sorry to Andy for that.

I felt pain still there without no one minimum chance to do nothing, the same time is hard for me be five more games there without try nothing, no? So I don't know if I still playing can go worst or something. So I said, well, no repeat the same mistake like I had last year. I go to the limit, but not cross the limit, no?

Q. Is it the same sort of injury?

RAFAEL NADAL: I say before yes.

Q. Does it feel worse or the same?


Q. Does it feel as bad as it did last year?

RAFAEL NADAL: I don't know, no? Is happen few minutes ago, no?

Q. It happened the end of the second set?


Q. Are there any changes you're going to make to your training style or your playing style?

RAFAEL NADAL: Don't start, guys, with these questions right now. I think is not the right moment. I think I changed the style to play. If you see my matches 2005 or 2004, 2006, I run a lot compared to now, no?

So today I played against one of the best players of the world, and I think I wasn't run more than him. So I played aggressive. I played having the control of the point, a lot of the time with the forehand and the backhand, too, returning aggressive. If you see my matches three years ago, that's didn't happen, no?

Remember, we are playing on hard courts. Probably in this surface I have to play my best tennis, like today, if I really want to have chances to win. If not, then the opponents, there are really good players, and Andy's unbelievable. He's playing really well. You know, with these matches, I think I was very close today. But just little bit more calm when I had the break.

Rafa must be extremely disappointed with having to retire with a recurrence of the knee injury and not defend his title. It must have been pretty serious if he decided not to go on in a quarterfinal match at a Grand Slam. However, he seemed to be very conscious of not pushing the injury too far after last year's issues so let's hope he prevented any long term damage.

Stay tuned.

[Photo(s): Getty]

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Monday, January 25, 2010

PHOTO OP: Vika + Bepa's intimate post-match LOLA

"What's an innocent kiss between friends?"

Victoria Azarenka grabbed her first victory in five tries over Vera Zvonareva in the Aussie Open fourth round

The Belarussian basher fell behind a set and 2-4 before rattling off the last 10 games to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. She'll face defending champ Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

Since I'm always mindful of offering you guys the ATP's best MOMA moments and because I consider myself an equal opportunity objectifier, I thought it was only fair to give you some LOLA courtesy of Vika + Bepa. It looks like they're about to do more than swap coaches. Now, wouldn't THAT be an interesting end?

Anyway, enjoy boys...and girls.

[Photo(s): AP]

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PHOTO OP: Shine the light

"I'm making history y'all!"

Big props go out to 16th-seeded Li Na who joined unseeded compatriot Zheng Jie as the first Chinese ballers EVAH to reach the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open. *big applause*

Na upset fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3 today and will meet Venus Williams for a spot in the final four. Yesterday, Zheng set up a battle with Maria Kirilenko after downing 31st seed Alona Bondarenko.

Every season the Chinese ladies make better and better progress on the tour and in the majors. I guess it's only a matter of time before someone breaks through to a Grand Slam final. Winning, however, is a completely different story. Their games are pretty straight forward and they'll need to add more variety before they'll make a big impact in the game.

[Photo(s): AP]
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PHOTO OP: Kolya's best bitchface


Nikolay Davydenko led by 2 sets then lost the next two before recovering and closing out a 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory over Fernando Verdasco in the Aussie Open fourth round. Although the sixth seed had his own issues in the match the Spaniard consistently showered the Russian with major gifts including 20 double faults, 81 UEs and a 33% conversion on break point opportunities (4 of 12).

It was amazing Nando was able to stay close to the Russian even with those awful numbers and a fading foe. But I'm sure the double fault fatigue took its toll. I mean, it did on me and I was just watching.

Now, onto Kolya v. Federer. Can he take his third straight win over the Swiss maestro?

[Photo(s): Reuters]
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Nicolas Almagro, who's apparently been playing with a broken left wrist, was edged out 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (6), 9-7 by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an Aussie Open fourth round match that featured spectacular shot-making from both ballers. The Frenchie will put his 4-match winning against Novak Djokovic on the line when the pair meet in the quarterfinals.

Nico looks a little worried about something here. What the hell is he thinking?


[Photo(s): Reuters]

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HE SAID/SHE SAID: Oz Open Day Eight

Q. You mentioned tonight you played some amazing shots. How often are you genuinely surprised by some of the shots you come up with?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, quite often. Even though I know I can play really good shots and come up with great backhands, forehands, serves and volleys, and stuff, when you can really produce them in the most important stages of a match it's so rewarding and such a good feeling that all the hard work you put in in the off‑season is so like ‑‑ it's just a beautiful feeling, you know.

Then if you can start to hit a dropshot or dig in the corner and get the ball back that you think you would never get, but it's a match situation and the adrenaline is there and you just got that extra speed and you get the ball back and end up winning the point, it does still obviously surprise me even today.

Q. Lleyton was saying you're still pretty much the best in the game. What makes you so good, do you think?

ROGER FEDERER: You guys are the experts.

Q. We try to answer it all the time.

ROGER FEDERER: Right. I know. I don't know, I mean, like I said, I think the love for the game is very important, that I go through the daily grind and practice and matches with a very positive attitude, and how much I like to play it.

I think the variety of my shots. Like I said before, I can always change it up and surprise myself again. That makes it a lot of fun for me. Very challenging as well.

I can always adjust to any type of player. Maybe those are the reasons. I don't know. I think with the experience and the mental toughness and the physical capabilities I have, I think it's a very good combination obviously.

Q. Yours and Sam's match here was supposed to be showing live. We only got to see a couple minutes of it, and they went to the news and some sort of soapies. How does that make you feel?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, we just got to get the guys to finish earlier, before five sets. I'll talk to Fernando about that. Like, Dude you got to finish earlier. You can't hold all the TV time. They got Nikolay, Mr. Personality now. He just wanted to be on TV, and they took all our time. Have to have a talk with those guys next time.

Q. When Hollywood ends up making a movie about the Williams sisters, who would you like to see play, and you how would you like to see it end?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, I don't want to see it end, that's for sure. But I've never thought about who would play me. I don't know. Maybe some up‑and‑comer‑no‑namer that's just able to do the job.

Q. For years you've said you don't want to be a star and you don't mind playing on the back courts. But you seem to have quite a profile here. Has this been fun? What's it been like?

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: I don't say ‑‑ I like to play show court. I don't want to play Court 20 or 22. It's too windy there. For sure I would like to play in show courts. Maybe not center court, but another courts.

Q. Has this been a fun week for you being in the public eye a little bit more than usual?

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: You mean now, in this moment?

Q. Jim Courier is interviewing you on the court. That didn't happen in years past. This room is full.

NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: Yeah. That's was surprising. Why you guys here? (Laughter.) Just I don't know what has change. Why you come now and you asking me some private questions? I don't know. It's you. You need to ask yourself why you come here.

Q. Why were you the better player today?

NA LI: Why?

Q. Why were you better than Caroline?

NA LI: Maybe I eat Chinese food. (Laughter.) No, I was play aggressive today. I know she's good player, and I also I play her in ‑‑ last week in Sydney. So it was tough match.

I know if I give her a chance, maybe she just beat me. So I was trying to hold on every point. I didn't want to give her chance.

Q. Djokovic is next.

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: Yeah, Djokovic is next, and I have to recover and I will be ‑‑ I think I will be ready for that.

Q. What is your game plan against him?

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: Against him, stay aggressive, very aggressive, and give everything. (Smiling.)

Q. What do you feel you've learned since the 2008 final against Djokovic?

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: What I learned, I don't know. But I beat him four times, I think, since this moment. So I learned to beat. (Laughter.)

Q. You don't have any fears going into this match?

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: No, no, I don't have. It's a tennis match, and like I say every time, I will do my best and we will see.

[Photo(s): AP, Getty]

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Delpo + Sveta come undone Down Under

Fourth seed Juan Martin del Potro hid his head in frustration during his 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Marin Cilic in the Aussie Open fourth round.

The towering Croat gained sweet revenge for his defeat at the hands of Delpo in the quarterfinal stage of last year's U.S. Open. He'll face Andy Roddick for a spot in the final four.

It was a breathtaking display of power hitting from every part of the court with each baller throwing in some slices and making quick forays into the net for good measure. I'd say Marin's focus and calm in the big moments made the difference here.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, the third seed, was also upset in the fourth round by her giant-killing compatriot Nadia Petrova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Even though the Roland Garros champ traditionally struggles in Oz, Nads has been playing big ball this tourney and - I can't believe I'm saying this - has been toughing out opponents mentally. Her game hasn't let down even when it's been challenged the most.

But this new found mental strength will face it's biggest challenge when she takes on Justine Henin for a spot in the semifinals. The winner of this contest will be the fave from this half of the draw to get to the final.

In any case Nads should keep doing whatever she's been doing in her training on and off-court because it's working.

[Photo(s): Reuters, AP]

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