I’m in no hurry to get over the Australian Open, and since my last two posts were heavily focused on Fed-related trophy porn, I thought I’d wrap up the tournament with some thoughts on other players.
What say you?
Hot: No 1s reign supreme.
Undoubtedly the two best players of the noughties win the first slam of the new decade. What more can you say about them that hasn’t been said already? They walk the walk, and they talk the talk. They’re inimitable, insatiable. They’re the players we’ll be talking about in the next 30 years the way people talk about Laver, Sampras, Graf or Navratilova these days.
We can point to the Davydenkos and the Dementievas of the tour, who scored recent wins over Roger and Serena. But in the end, there’s a good reason why Roger and Serena have a combined total of 28 slams between them, while Davydenko and Dementieva share a shiny l’oeuf.
Not: Grandest of all slams.
Two weeks ago, many ‘experts’ were betting their house money on having 4 different male slam winners for 2010. Now the same ‘experts’ claim that Federer could win all 4 slams this year.
Remind me: didn’t we say the same thing about every Australian Open winner for the last 4 years? How did that work out?
Logically, the feat is possible, but realistically, the diversity, depth and athleticism of modern tennis make this possibility slim to the point of being negligible.
All I asked for at the start of 2010 was for Roger to win one slam. As he said in previous years, any year with a slam is a good year. Now that he’s got one, I’ll a bit greedy and hope that he stays healthy all year to break Sampras’ record of weeks at No 1, keep the semifinals streak going and win Wimbledon.
But honestly, keep the moronic expectations to yourself.
Hot: Chinese onslaught.
Empty stands at the Shanghai Masters last year should tell you how much the Chinese fans care about tennis sans Roger Federer. And are we really surprised?
Only countries with a history of tennis and good players feel a sense of “ownership” over the sport. Zheng and Li may not be future slam winners, but they’re trail-blazers. They pave the way for the seemingly inevitable Chinese onslaught in the near future. And why do we want a Chinese onslaught?
For one simple reason: more people watched the Australian Open semifinals featuring Zheng and Li than the entire population of Australia.
China redefines “mass appeal”.
Not: talk about redefinition, are we redefining ‘greatness’ here?
Don’t get me wrong. I like Kim Clijsters. Yet I couldn’t help but cringe every time she was mentioned as a ‘great champion’ in the same breath as Henin and Serena over the past fortnight.
Since when did Kim Clijsters become a tennis great?
Let’s not forget that until last year, Clijsters was a one slam wonder known for her inability to convert a victory on the big stage. Her win in New York last year was a truly inspiring story. And no doubt, she is currently one of the best players on tour.
But don’t kid yourselves here – this wasn’t some sort of a “champion’s return” to reclaim her rightful spot at the top of the game. Clijsters is a step above Svetlana Kuznetsova in anyone’s books, but she ain’t a Serena or Justine.
And by the same token, since when did Venus get completely left out of the “current greats” list?
Sure, her form isn’t fantastic right now, but the woman reached the quarterfinals without playing her best tennis and outperformed most of the other top WTA players right now.
As the winner of 7 slams and at least the third best female player of the last decade, Venus Williams deserves more respect in the media rather than this “what have you done for me lately” attitude from commentators this tournament.
Hot: Red Hot Cilic Peppers
If every slam had an “it” player, then the “it” player of the Australian Open would be Marin Cilic. Welcome to the top 10.
We saw a bit of everything – aggression from the baseline, at the net, solid movement, calmness and some nerves too. Not to mention- surprising eloquence.
Count me in on the bandwagon. I have a feeling this guy’s going to have Mandy’s number someday.
But next time Marin, perhaps you’ll learn to pace yourself more in the first week of a slam?
Not: The player that no one’s talking about.
Sorry Nole fans, I laughed when some commentators picked him to win the Australian Open pre-tournament. Based on what?
Sure, the guy cleaned up the indoor season, good for him. But who cares about the indoor season? Not when the likes of Federer, Nadal and even del Potro spent the post-US Open circuit looking burnt out, lethargic and completely lacking in intensity.
But that’s not the part about Nole that left me cold. When Rafa crashed out of the tournament at the hands of Mandy, Nole could’ve earned his No 2 spot with a win over Tsonga, his first credible opponent in the tournament after a string of cupcakes.
Instead, he cockblocked himself one last time and left his ranking up to Federer and Murray to decide. As Mandy lost, Djoko became the new World No 2 through the backdoor. Color me unimpressed.
Yes, I’m aware he had some health issues. But once upon a time, a boy also had wolf issues.
Hot: Step up.
My revelations of the tournament:
- Yanina Wickmayer (move over, Masha);
- Alisa Kleybanova (there is no better anger management than watching Kleybs club the bile out of a tennis ball),
- Nestor/Zimonjic (like I would ever pay attention to the men’s doubles semifinal if I wasn’t stuck ushering it. But boy, was I glad I watched it);
- and of course, John Isner, who continued to impress with his baby fat and sheer desire to step up.
He leaves this half of the globe with his first tour title in Auckland and his second consecutive slam fourth round. It seems that American journalists aren’t the only ones taking note of his entry into the top 20:
AMERICAN John Isner is shooting up the rankings – he’ll move into the top 20 after January’s ranking points are counted. The 22-year-old clinched his first tour title the week before the Open in Auckland, and some very important people took note. ”That was pretty cool,” said Isner, explaining how Roger Federer had stopped him in a Melbourne Park corridor to congratulate him. ”I didn’t really think he would even know, but he did. Any time Roger talks to you, let alone congratulates you, it’s pretty neat.”
Not: Step down.
15 months ago, Safina, Lady Jaja and Ana were on top of the rankings. They were the “right now” and future of women’s tennis. Today, they are three girls struggling to live with their serve, approaching their mid-20s with a total of 1 slam amongst them. With Serena looking ever so motivated and Henin back in the action, the window of opportunities has just about closed.
Kudos to all of them for going away every offseason to train and broaden their games, but the lack of game is hardly the reason they can’t win slams. At their best, JJ, Ana and Dina all have slam winning arsenals. What’s lacking is a correct balance between hot desire and a cool head.
What this says about them is that none of them know who the hell they are as a player just yet. Will they ever?
Hot: Happy Slam
I had the pleasure of chatting with some European tennis fans over the course of the last two weeks. Their comparisons made me realise just how affordable and accessible grand slam tennis is down under.
I give a lot of flak to our politicians for … being politicians, but thumbs up for continuing to invest in the sports precinct of this city. In a few years, there’ll be 3 roofs at the Australian Open, new indoor courts, a greater use of the space at Melbourne Park, and 500 more seats at a renovated Rod Laver Arena.
Not too shabby, I say.
Not: Cause and means
On the most part, Australia is a fairly multicultural society, but for some reason, tennis brings out the racial tensions each year. Croatian neo-Nazis were arrested on Day 2 with one person out of the gang found to be facing two murder charges. Chilean fans were ejected for lighting flares. The nephew of the Australian prime minister protested with a group in KKK costume against Australia’s racist treatment of refugees.
It’s another matter of cause and means. I believe that Australia’s treatment of refugees is an utter disgrace. Meet me on the Parliament steps. Meet me on university lawns. Meet me at Federation Square to protest the injustice.
But if I see you at the tennis ruining other people’s good times, I’m calling the security.
Hot: Records left standing.
With his Australian Open win this year, Roger Federer is more than 3000 points ahead of Nole, making it almost impossible to topple him before Rome. Roger needs to remain No 1 at the end of Roland Garros to break the Sampras record. It’s up to him right now to take care of his opportunities in the next 3 months and stretch that rankings lead. You go, Poopie!
Not: imbalance in our tennis universe.
I knew it was coming, but it still hurts a little to see Rafa at No 4.
We could have a Fedal semi at Indian Wells. We could have a Fedal quarter at Roland Garros if Rafa doesn’t manage to defend his points in the first half of the year.
To quote myself narcissistically, DYSTOPIA.
That’s it from the Australian Open guys. I’m taking this week as a “honeymoon week” to enjoy the Swiss 16, so don’t expect any coverage of the ‘Movistar Open’ or Zagreb.
Apparently, the bubbly Laura Robson has rubbed off on Mandy, who exhibited a rare smile on court as the British pair won their opening tie against Kazakhstan 2-1.
Laura opened up with a 3-set loss to JJ-killer Shvedova, but Murray make quick work of cutiepatootie Andrey Golubev to even the tie. The pair then went on to take their mixed doubles in a match tiebreak.
What was surprising was the good rapport between Robson and Murray, as the pair joked throughout their mixed doubles match.
“It was around about 5-0 in the first set she asked me if I moisturise my hands,” Murray revealed.
“I was thinking she wasn’t taking this too seriously.”
At that point Robson interjected: “Have you seen his hands? They are pretty disgusting. It was a good question I thought.”
Robson also texted Murray earlier in the day to make sure their playing kits did not clash in the mixed doubles, with the Scot being told he had to change his planned attire.
“I was going to wear blue, green and white like I did in the (singles) match and then Laura said she had purple which clashed with blue. I had to change.”
I’ve never seen Muzzah so unmuzzah-like in an on-court interview. Pity he recycles his jokes.
“I’m going to blame her a little bit though because she started asking me if I moisturise my hands and I think maybe she lost her concentration just a little bit.
“But she’s only 15 so I’ll let her off. It was fun. She hit me on the back at one point – I don’t think I really deserved that… it was sore already because I was carrying her!”
Robson matched her senior partner in the banter department with a nice line in self-deprecation and responded with: “I’m kind of proud of my volleys in the tie-break, they’re the only ones I made!
“I will take out of the evening that I should work more on my serve and we should communicate more so that he doesn’t hit me!”
Okay no. It doesn’t work when it’s just him without the jailbait.
In other ties, Australia defeated the US of A today as Sam Stosur and Lleyton Hewitt both sealed their respective singles match against Oudin and Izzy in straight sets.
The pair was on course for the cleansweep in mixed doubles, as Stosur and Hewitt blitzed through the first set with their fabulous volleying techniques. But a lucky shank by Isner led to a break early in the second set. A complete change in momentum followed – Izzy found his doubles mojo and Melanie Oudin put her returning game into good use. The USA took the second set and dominated the match tiebreak to get their first victory in Perth.
Australia’s chances of making the final now depends very much on how Spain fares against Romania in their tie tonight.
Which basically translates to “we suck”.
It’s Hopman Cup time, the tournament with diamond encrusted balls. One step closer to these prized trophies are Romania and Spain, having won their ties against Australia and the US of A respectively over the weekend.
I remember going to a local stand-up comedy show a few years back. When the comedian brought up the name “Lleyton Hewitt”, the crowd booed. If we can’t find some love for him here in Aus, then what hope is there for Hewitt overseas?
Fast-forward a few years and the Hewitt-hating normality I’ve come to know and love is crashing down on me. Instead of suing the ATP, making homophobic remarks and playing mind games with his opponents, Lleyton Hewitt has somewhat grown up.
These days, he seems to be more willing to spend his time investing in online retail stores, making babies with Bec, and generally doing inoffensive things such as milking what’s left of his career for all its worth.
And in all honesty, he doesn’t have to. No one’s stopping him from riding off into the retirement sunset a la Marat Safin. Perhaps we don’t give him enough credit for … actually loving this sport?
Unlike his compatriot Sam Stosur, Hewitt started his year with a win over Victor Hanescu in a dramatic third set tiebreak.
All credit to Hanescu, who served big, mixed in drop shots and volleys to make Hewitt run around like a rabbit. But Lleyton wouldn’t be Lleyton if he didn’t battle every match to the end of time. With Hanescu cramping and the Perth crowd fired up, there was only one result to expect.
Romania however could depend on Sorana Cirstea to seal the tie. Not a fan of the Racoon eye make-up and slappy forehand, but you gotta admire the guts and fight from the girl. Looking done and dusted half way through the second set of her singles match, Cirstea took full advantage of a slight falter by Stosur, pumped herself up and took control of a match she had no business winning.
Top 20 by the end of the year?
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
I’m sure you’ll understand my newfound love for the girl, having missed her match against Serena at Roland Garros last year, it was my first time watching her.
And why wouldn’t you love her game? Beautiful service motion, one of the rare non-spastic ball tosses on the WTA tour. She’s an intelligent player with a good sense of knowing when to stay in the rally, and when to move forward and unleash her array of doubles-savvy volleys on her opponents.
You don’t get a lot of players like her on the women’s tour these days. A breath of fresh air, as one might say.
Is it any wonder then that MJMS and Tommy Robredo teamed up to defeat Oudin and Mr Chubby Sex?
Izzy, I love you. But you know you can’t serve at 77% and still lose the match, right? It’s a crime for someone with a serve like yours to volley that floppily.
As Romania and Spain kicked off their quest for Perth’s balls, all the teams turned up to attend the annual Hopman Cup ball. Lena D looks beautifully bland, as always.
Sabine hadn’t realised Halloween was almost 3 months ago.
I keep a mental list of players who are either of the same height or shorter than me. Melanie Oudin belongs in the former category. Kimiko Date Krumm in the latter.
John Isner belongs in neither.
When I was 15, I was still waiting for boobs to arrive. Frick you.
Shave. Wear a tie. Tuck your shirt in. And stop looking like a hobo.
Tommy Rob shows Mandy how it’s done.
Sammy. Aww. Sammy.
Lleyton and new coach Nathan Healy.
What I wouldn’t give to be in Perth right now …
If you didn’t see Clijsters v Henin, you have just missed out on one of the most incredible, dramatic matches of the last 3 years.
SHAME ON YOU!
Order of Play
- Stanislas WAWRINKA vs Marin CILIC
- Marc GICQUEL/Jeremy CHARDY vs Leander PAES/Lukas DLOUHY
- Radek STEPANEK vs Andy RODDICK
Yes Dina, I’m a terrible person:
Cheers erupted on Centre Court in Beijing as Zhang Shuai (not to be confused with Peng Shuai) took out the “Real World No 1” Dinara Safina 75 76.
Zhang, ranked 226 in the world, has never won a match in the second round of a main draw before. She appeared to have no conceivable weapon other than her ability to absorb pace, which happened to exactly what Dina was sending her.
To be fair, it’s not like Dina knows how to play any other way. Much better players would’ve had trouble winning a match with 51 unforced errors and 13 double faults. But I guess that’s precisely the trouble with women’s tennis right now, you wish the No 1 player was “the better player”, or “the best player”. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of correlation between quality and ranking when it comes to Dinara.
Also out of the tournament is Venus Williams, who lost to Pavs for the second time in two weeks 36 61 64.
Shockingly for Venus, she committed 14 double faults with no aces over the course of the 3 sets. Colour me surprised if that knee is properly healed. I’m almost in favour of Venus just calling it a year rather than flailing physically and making matters worse.
This is, however, a damn good picture.
On the men’s side of things in Beijing, Cilic, Ferrero, and Robredo all came through in straight sets, while Kohlschreiber took out Dr Ivo in 3, breadsticking him along the way. Anyone who breadsticks Ivo Karlovic deserves a multitude of my love and affection.
And we had 3 Novak Djokovics. Basically my worst nightmare.
In Tokyo, the Swiss are showing the tennis world that they can be awesome without some potato-nosed hubby-of-Vavrinec.
Well, no they can’t. Nice try anyway.
Marco Chiudinelli “upset” Dudi Sela 46 61 64 to secure his own career high ranking in the top 100, while Stan had a good 64 64 victory over John Isner. A good word for Marco, he’s been playing a lot better than his ranking would indicate ever since the Us Open.
Not to mention, they both looked oh-so-pretty, who needs the other Swiss with these two around?
Who am I convincing?
There was something wild and burning in NYC today, leaving many of the top seeds singed, scorched or flat-out cremated.
Black Saturday got off to an ominous start as Roger Federer, seemingly in control of the first set serving at 4-2 40-0, lost serve with a string of forehand errors and a double fault.
From then on, as Roger put it himself, “the wheels came off“. Federer couldn’t make a single winner to save his life for the next 15 minutes, and conceded the first set 6-4 with 24 unforced errors.
After all my efforts in pretending that the early hard court season never happened, the suppress memories Key Biscayne came rushing back. Roger cleaned up his game slightly in the next 3 sets, but it was B+ stuff, resulting in a relatively close 4-set win.
Credit to Rusty though. Give the guy so much as a half-chance and he’ll take it from you in a blink and scream “C’MAWN” in your face.
I don’t know how I feel about Hewitt these days. On the one hand, it’s hard not to hold his foul behavior as a youngster against him. On the other, could it really be that I’m finally feeling something for Hewitt that I never felt during the first part of his career: respect?
I mean, the guy’s accumulated a fortune over the years. He’s won two slams, spent a decent number of weeks as the No 1, been there and done that. He’s gotten himself a soapy wife, two kids and a tax-haven nest. He shouldn’t feel like he has anything left to prove.
Lleyton doesn’t have to be out here grinding away against younger and flashier prototypes. As Wertheim pointed out this week, Rusty could’ve easily “done a Safin” and rode off into the sunset, broken hips and all.
But Lleyton Hewitt is still out there, battling away for – oh I don’t know – the sheer love of competition? How do you not respect a guy like that?
While Feduruh dueled with Hewitt on Ashe, over on Armstrong, Djokovic hardly resembled the World No 4 that he is, battling past Jesse Witten, ranked 267 in the world 6-7 (2) 6-3 7-6 (2) 6-4.
You gotta give it up to these journeymen, people like Greul and Witten, for taking it to the top guys and relishing their prime time moment. At the sam time, Djokovic was just far too passive during the match, with only 31 winners to Witten’s 42, 53 unforced errors to Witten’s 62, and 8 double faults to Witten’s 11. It wasn’t exactly world class stuff.
It’s the end of a feel-good story for Jesse Witten, whose third round performance revived his passion for tennis.
“This makes me want to keep playing. It gives me some money to keep playing. The biggest thing usually is I feel like I don’t belong . . . I never said it or tell people that. Just in my mind, I don’t know how good I am, so it’s good to see I can play with these guys.“
Cinderella or Uncle Toni’s lovechild? You decide:
As Djokovic wrapped up his marathon against Witten, Maria Sharapova was being bundled out by the new American sweetheart Melanie ‘Oudini’.
Given all the upsets on the women’s side of things, I’m thrilled that we at least have a feisty little teen battling her way into everyone’s heart.
But I won’t pretend it wasn’t painful to watch Masha Fierce double fault 21 times and committ 63 unforced errors and lose the match. The serve, which had been fine during her first two matches, unravelled so spectacularly that it began to corrupt the rest of her game.
Q. When you’re having trouble like you were serving, how hard is it to hold onto your groundstrokes?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: With the amount of errors I made from both my groundstrokes and my serve, to be able to get it to three sets is not bad. So if I didn’t make those errors, those double faults, I certainly would have won the match.
So that gives me some confidence.
Saddened, but not crushed.
Just when you thought the Tennis Gods were done with the upsets, lo and behold – John Isner and Andy Roddick locked themselves into an epic ace-fest.
Must admit I was gunning for Izzy to pull off an upset – he won me over a few weeks ago in Washington where he took ARod to 3 sets. Apparently, dude has more than just a serve. He committed himself to volleying the entire match, forcing Andy to come up with passing shots, which he couldn’t.
Even so, when ARod came back from a 2-set deficit to level for a fifth, I thought he had it in the bag. Isner was supposed to have run out of extra gears. He was supposed to be physically ailing, nervous, and floundering in self-doubt. Except he wasn’t.
Q. Were you as calm on the inside as you appeared on the outside throughout that match?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, I really was. Never panicked. If I lose that match, I have nothing to hang my head about. Played well. Maybe a little bit more the pressure’s on him. He’s expected to do so well here. Nobody expected me to win. Kind of looked at it that way. Just went out there and, you know, just played free. Didn’t think too much.
Q. Did you expect to win?
JOHN ISNER: I did. Yeah, I knew I had a shot. Once I got that first set, I definitely knew I had a shot. I played really well in the second set. Obviously, when you’re up two sets to love, you’ve only got one more to go, so…
Q. Can you articulate what this win means to you?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, I don’t really know how to describe it just yet. It’s obviously, hands down, the biggest win of my career. Nothing even compares. To do it at the stage I did it on is pretty spectacular. Maybe it will sink in a little bit more tomorrow.
But I know I can really do some damage here. So I’m not satisfied just yet.
I like this kid. He can join my bandwagon. I’ll save him a mono-infested seat right next to Fed and Mario.
Tough for Andy to lose such a close match, even tougher that he should end his fantastic slam year with a third round showing.
So … who picked Dent and Isner as the last two American men standing?
The freaktastic day of upsets was then topped off by Dinara Safina, who lost to the World No 72, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7-5).
And watching the match, you would’ve never known who was the top seed. Petra was gutsy from the start, firing 47 winners and 59 unforced errors. Dinara made 12 winners over a 3 set match, and never looked like she wanted to dictate proceedings.
TWELVE winners, that’s about 4 per set. Are you fucking kidding me?!
Never mind, I’ve vented enough during the match. Thanks Petra for putting us out of our misery.
Blackened and burnt,
R16 makes me nervous. It’s the floaters’ round, the round where the journeymen and maidens step out on court and wonder if it’s their tournament, if the wave of tennis miracle has finally caught up on them to carry them to unexpected heights. For the top seeds, it’s the last round where they’ll have to play nobodies, before the quarterfinals and semis turn up the heat and bring familiar rivals in front of them. Round of 16 is where Murray was upset by Verdasco this year, and Federer barely scraped past Berdych. Oh yeth… the round of 16 makes me nervous, but it’s also the most fun I have all tournament.
Perhaps it’s because the women’s side has already exhausted more than its fair share of floaters and journeymaidens, the round of 16 at Indian Wells has been bizarrely routine with all the remaining seeds – Dinara, Vera, Ana, Agniewska, Caroline Woz, and Baby Sharapova – coming through fairly routinely. As I said in my previous post, I picked Baby Shazza or Wozniacki for the tournament, so I’ll be following the blockbuster next round – Safina v Azarenka. History won’t remember that Serena was down a set en route to her Australian Open title this year before her opponent retired, but I will. Going by power and athleticism, I’d probably give Safina the edge, but in terms of mentality, a match-up between Safina and Azarenka is the equivalent of a men’s match between Safin and Hewitt, where it’s the mindset, and not the serve or the forehand, that is the biggest weapon of all. Let’s see if I’m right.
Mentioning Safin, it appears that we have a resident “floater” on the men’s side. Isner, who downed Monfils and Safin consecutively this week, and if memory serves me, he took a set off Federer at the US Open in 2007. Continue to serve that way and he might claim a few more casualties, or at least token sets from the top guys.