Sightings from the Mountain, Friday

Pavlyuchenkova d. Tsurenko, 4-6 6-1 6-2 in Brisbane

Whether it was due to nerves in her first Premier semifinal in two years, or to underestimating her opponent, Pavlyuchenkova made a tentative start. In the first set, she played with neither the aggressiveness or accuracy she achieved in her upsets of Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber.

Playing in the first WTA semifinal of her career, Lesia Tsurenko kept up the level she had found in the third set of her second-round match against Jarmila Gajdosova and carried through her upset of Daniela Hantuchova. Her forehand is her weaker, less reliable shot, but she hit it hard and deep to keep Pavlychenkova under pressure. Tsurenko’s backhand uses a short swing, and she hit impressive winners from that side even when rushing to defend against some of Pavlyuchenkova’s best shots.

Having lost to Olga Puchkova in qualifying and entered the main draw after Maria Sharapova’s withdrawal, Tsurenko had made a terrible start in the first set against Gajdosova. But Gajdosova let her off the hook in the second set, and this, combined with on-court coaching by Ksenia Pervak (who also had a great week) really seemed to buoy Tsurenko’s confidence. Tsurenko combined her new courage to go for her shots with her speed around the court and stayed in points long enough to draw errors from her opponents or find opportunities to finish points with her backhand.

In the second set, though, Pavlyuchenkova raised her level and focused on breaking down Tsurenko’s forehand. Tsurenko’s arm appeared to tire, her confidence started to falter, and she started to make more errors, first with her forehand and then with her backhand. This took the pressure off Pavlyuchenkova, who continued to play better and dominated into the third set.

Late in the third set, Tsurenko mounted a last-ditch effort, threatening to break Pavlyuchenkova’s serve and get back in the match, eliciting thunderous applause from the Brisbane crowd, which has clearly been won over this week by Tsurenko’s fighting spirit. The cheers brought tears to Tsurenko’s eyes, and might just inspire her to more big results this season. But Pavlyuchenkova was blasting too many winners by this point to be stopped, and a few minutes later had earned her place in the final.

A. Radwanska d. Hampton, 7-6(4) 7-6(3) in Auckland

Agnieszka Radwanska played much of the match passively, allowing Jamie Hampton to keep working sharp angles and hitting winners as she has all week. Hampton served for the first set, but accelerating wind combined with the inevitable nervousness threw off her timing, enabling Radwanska to break back and win the tiebreak. A rain shower briefly interrupted play at the beginning of the second set, the wind kept blowing, and Hampton started going for too much in an effort to keep the match from slipping out of her grasp.

Radwanska took a 4-0 lead, but by then the wind had calmed. Hampton recovered her timing and charged back to level the set at 4-4. Radwanska then called her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, on court. Afterwards Radwanska finally began making more effort to control points, moving Hampton forward and backward as well as side to side, and using varied spin to throw Hampton off balance and put more pressure on her forehand. Radwanska did just enough to reach the final, but without the aid of the wind and Hampton’s relative lack of big-match experience, she might not have had the chance to turn the match around.

Wickmayer d. Barthel, 6-4 1-6 7-6(3) in Auckland

Both Yanina Wickmayer and Mona Barthel rely heavily on their serves and like to take big swings and hit winners from the baseline. Wickmayer is the more physically imposing of the two, and indeed in the first set she seemed to have the edge in power, rushing Barthel’s shots. This contributed to Barthel’s higher number of errors in the first set.

Suddenly in the third game of the second set, Wickmayer made a few errors and started to have trouble getting her serve into play. Barthel broke for a 2-1 lead. For some reason, this was enough to make Wickmayer panic. She called her coach onto court during the changeover and told him, “It’s hopeless! … I can’t put a serve in the court!” Afterwards her shaky serving continued, and her groundstrokes became alternately tentative and erratic. The pressure on her own game lifted, Barthel happily reduced her errors and won a total of six games in a row to take the set, 6-1.

Wickmayer took a bathroom break between sets and played better afterwards, leading to a close and tense third set. Barthel was the only player to face break points (three of them) in the set, but most service games went to deuce, prompting both players to show signs of nerves. But both players held their ground until the tiebreak, in which Barthel served two consecutive double faults. She followed those with two desperate, missed groundstrokes, which handed the more experienced Wickmayer an insurmountable lead.

Other Upsets

Bautista Agut d. Berdych, 7-5 2-6 6-3 in Chennai (quarterfinals)
Paire d. Cilic, 6-4 1-6 7-5 in Chennai (quarterfinals)
Bedene d. Wawrinka, 6-2 7-6(6) in Chennai (quarterfinals)
Davydenko d. Ferrer, 6-2 6-3 in Doha (semifinals)

Either there’s something very strange going on in Chennai, or unheralded players are playing out of their minds, or the top seeds are in a hurry to get to Melbourne.

Petrova No Longer Working With Sanchez

According to an interview in the Spanish blog Master1000, with excerpts translated here by Unseeded & Looming, coach Ricardo Sanchez says he and Nadia Petrova have mutually agreed to stop working together. The separation is puzzling given the dramatic success the pair had together late last season. Sanchez also has some rather provocative things to say about several other WTA players, and about his own ability.

Injuries and other Withdrawals

Victoria Azarenka withdrew from Brisbane before her semifinal against Serena Williams, saying she underwent minor outpatient surgery for a toe infection caused by a botched pedicure.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from France’s final mixed doubles match in Hopman Cup, with South Africa leading 6-3 1-2. He also withdrew from Sydney, citing a hamstring injury.

Heather Watson withdrew from Hobart with an elbow injury.

Sabine Lisicki withdrew from qualifying in Sydney with a viral illness.

Richard Gasquet withdrew from Sydney for “personal reasons”.

Carlos Berlocq withdrew from Auckland qualifying with a thigh injury.

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