Thursday January 19th, 2012

Serena Williams said her ankle was 'totally fine' after taking a tumble at the net. (Reuters)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- On Day 4 of the Australian Open, Serena Williams won her 500th career match, Andy Roddick and two other Americans took tough exits and Ivan Lendl actually smiled. Here's a roundup of the day's action.

What happened

Roddick exits: Roddick retired from his second-round match against Lleyton Hewitt at Rod Laver Arena because of a hamstring injury. Click here for more on the 29-year-old American's departure.

500 club: Williams defeated Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-0, 6-4 for her 500th win, a milestone that had her very excited. "It's like the ultimate," she said, beaming. "It's really, really cool. Five hundred is a lot of matches to play, let alone to win, so it's pretty cool."

Through two rounds, Williams has alternated from being, at times, frighteningly good, to losing focus and going through some wobbly moments. After blanking Strycova in the first set, Williams lost her timing and footwork and sprayed more unnecessary errors in a tighter second set.

"She just started playing better and doing different things," Williams said. "Which is always expected when you win the first set 6‑love."

Williams also gave her camp a scare when she took a little tumble at the net, but the former No. 1 downplayed any significance. "It's fine," she said. "Totally fine. ... I have two good ankles."

She'll face 32-year-old Greta Arn in the third round. Expect Serena to take advantage of another opportunity to play her way into top form.

The facts of life: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have Petra Kvitova.

"It's my game that I'm playing [for] winners," she said, responding to questions about her tendency for these rough patches. "The mistakes is my game, it's part of my game. So I know that I will have some mistakes."

The Czech's infamous streakiness was in full effect against the talented Carla Suarez Navarro, who made the quarterfinals here in 2009. After running away with the first set 6-2, Kvitova quickly found herself down 0-3 as the Spaniard began to dictate with her beautiful one-handed backhand (I could watch Suarez Navarro hit that backhand all day, whereas Kvitova probably doesn't want to see it ever again).

As Suarez Navarro gained confidence, Kvitova was regularly caught on the defensive, which is where she never wants to be. The world No. 2 then started struggling with her timing and footwork and began missing the lines by yards, rarely able to string together more than three shots before making an error. Suarez Navarro immediately broke Kvitova at the beginning of the third set and it was looking like the No. 2 seed would be making an early exit. But Kvitova fought to break back at 0-2 and slowly climbed back into the match, reducing her errors and eventually winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.

"It was good preparation for the next match," Kvitova said. "I know that I can fight and I can win if I'm playing badly."

Could that confidence be the difference going forward for Kvitova? She turned this match around on a dime when she broke at 0-2, and while she didn't go into "Beast Mode" after that (firing winners from all parts of the court as she's been known to do), her ability to will herself through her dip in form was a strong sign of fortitude. I think she's right. This was a good match for her to win in the early rounds. She knows she can win even when she's not zoning. That's what you need to do to win Slams.

Murray 2.0?: Andy Murray hit 41 winners in a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 takedown of Edouard Roger-Vasselin. He was calm, collected, business-like and lethal, all traits made famous by new coach Lendl. His forehand was particularly notable, hitting it flatter and with more aggression from the center of the court. It will be interesting to see if he chooses to keep that up, or whether he was only doing it Thursday because he knew Roger-Vasselin didn't have the weapons to hurt him.

Your reputation precedes you: Reputations in the locker room go a long way in helping a player win matches. Have a reputation for choking when it's tight? Your opponent knows that. Have a reputation for fighting for every point? Your opponent knows that too.

Ryan Sweeting and Sloane Stephens may have lost two tightly contested matches, but they both took another step in establishing their reputations as being tough outs. Sweeting played a fantastic match in a five-set loss to No. 5 David Ferrer, pounding his groundstrokes with authority and getting the Spaniard on the ropes early. He was the better player for much of the match, but they don't call Ferrer "dogged" for nothing. His experience showed in the end, as he came back to win 6-7 (4), 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Stephens wasn't able to grab a set off Svetlana Kuznetsova, but the 18-year-old made the two-time major champion earn every piece of her 7-6 (6), 7-5 win. Stephens kept coming back from a break down to stay even with the Russian, even breaking her when she served for the match. Stephens hit 23 winners to Kuznetsova's 16, an impressive feat considering Kuznetsova had her on the run for much of the match.

And then there's the flip side of what Stephens and Sweeting were able to do. Earlier this month in Sydney, Dominika Cibulkova squandered a 4-0 lead in the third set against Caroline Wozniacki to lose 6-4. On Thursday, she served for the match against Arn at 7-6 and was up 30-0. Then she hit two bad errors and back-to-back double faults to hand back the break. Twenty minutes later, Arn hit a perfect drop shot to break her and seal the match, knocking out the 17th seed 6-2, 3-6, 10-8. Cibulkova's sputtering at the finish line won't go unnoticed by her rivals.

Still waiting: The waiting game continues for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who lost to Vania King 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. That's back-to-back wins for King over Pavlyuchenkova and yet another disappointing Grand Slam performance from the Russian. The bottom line is that Pavlyuchenkova needs to sit down and commit to her training to get fitter and quicker, as opposed to relying on her natural ball-striking ability to bail her out of trouble. She consistently beats herself with her inability to get into position for shots. Add in her penchant for going for far too much when she's out of position, and you get very mixed results. But this was a great win for King, who seems to know exactly how to play Pavlyuchenkova. Her reward? Ana Ivanovic in the next round.

Photo of the day

Ana Ivanovic signs autographs for fans after her second-round win over Michaella Krajicek. (Zumapress)

Go figure

500-104... Serena's career singles record.

2... Straight years that an American has retired because of injury on Rod Laver Arena. Venus Williams retired to Andrea Petkovic in the third round in 2011, and now Roddick has followed her with Thursday's exit.

21... Five-set matches played through four days.

2001... The year Roddick retired from a Grand Slam match for the first time. He retired with a hamstring injury at the French Open against ... Lleyton Hewitt.

Video of the day

Here are some highlights from the Roddick-Hewitt match, including the injury around the 45-second mark.

*****

Bits and bobbles

Hewitt and Australia: It's complicated. After Hewitt let Roddick get a break back in the second set, someone in the crowd shouted, "Lleyton, you're useless!" Oddly, only a smattering of fans booed the heckler.

Darren Cahill relayed a funny text exchange he had with Lendl after Murray won his first match in Brisbane under Lendl's reign. Cahill texted Lendl, joking that he had an easy first day. Lendl texted back, "It's not my fault you don't know how to mentally prepare your guy for the early rounds." Speaking of Lendl, the camera caught him smiling Thursday. Granted, every muscle in his face tried to stop it from happening, but that frown turned upside down for a split second during Murray's match.

Milos Raonic's voice cracking during his press conferences is Peter Brady-esque and completely endearing. But don't let that fool you. Raonic got hot under the collar during his four-set win over Philipp Petzschner, arguing line calls and overrules with Pascal Maria. I liked seeing that fire in Raonic.

Speaking of line calls and overrules, the fact that there are TV courts that do not have Hawk-Eye has been bothering me every day this week. It seems I can't look in to a non-Hawk-Eye court for more than 20 minutes without seeing a player get up in arms about a line call. Given the money the Slams pull in, it's hard to be sympathetic to any argument that Hawk-Eye can't be installed on all the courts (especially if Indian Wells can do it), but here's my minimal request: Put Hawk-Eye on all TV courts. If a major is getting revenue for broadcasting play from TV courts, the players placed on that court should benefit from it. Besides, it would ensure that we're not constantly bombarded by images of players losing their cool with umpires.

The temperatures have cooled since the first two days of the tournament, making it actually pleasant during the day. That's the good news. The bad news is that the drastic temperature fluctuations have led to windy conditions. That's really affected play on the outer courts, which have no protection from the wind. Keep that in mind when you see some weird scorelines pop up.

 Mixed doubles starts Friday. Jelena Jankovic and Bernard Tomic are indeed in the draw, despite Tomic's forgetfulness in signing in the pair. But don't hold your breath for Serena and A-Rod.

They said it

"My father told me all the time, If you broke the racket, I broke you. [Laughter.] So I go easy with the racket. Sometimes I prefer to hit myself than my racket."

-- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on breaking rackets, which was a hot topic in the press conferences given Marcos Baghdatis' epic display on Wednesday night.

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