There are always some loose strings and leftover challenges after every major. Allow me to clean out my virtual tennis bag.
ROGER AND SERENA ARE OUT OF SIGHTS
(I love this photo because it looks like he’s been awarded a Ferris Wheel for a trophy):
Roger Federer decided to spice things up on his way to winning his sweet 16th Major title. From the good natured trash talk about Murray’s chances, to the unselfconscious declarations of his own “crazy” talent, to the dominating displays and daring comebacks on court, Roger Federer announced Down Under that he has no intention of sharing the Champion’s spotlight.
His post-15 motivation is simple: he wants to kick some young gun ass. He might as well have worn a t-shirt with a big red target on the back and the words “Take your best shot, suckers!” written in block letters (are you listening, Nike?)
Speaking of targets, Serena mentioned this week that she won’t quit tennis until “someone takes me out back and shoots me.” That’s assuming anyone can get within striking distance.
CHEST BUMPS ALL ‘ROUND
Yay, U.S.A.! With the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers winning the doubles titles and Serena taking the singles, the Australian Open was good to the Americans this year.
GTT reader “MarK” rightfully pointed out that I left the Bryan Brothers high and dry this weekend. So let’s take a minute to celebrate the defending champs’ 4th Australian Open doubles title, over nemeses Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic: 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3. The Bryans were suffering a five match losing streak against the Serbo-Canadian duo, including last year’s Wimbledon final, and they decided to literally switch things up this time by swapping their usual court postitions (right handed Mike went to the deuce side and leftie Bob went to the ad.)
“Last year they beat us in a lot of finals,” Mike said. “We decided to throw a new look at them. It’s our first time in a Grand Slam final and it seemed to help. It could be the way of the future.” (via The Globe and Mail)
Also in the Bryan Brothers future: a go at the all-time Major titles record currently held by the retired Australian doubles team of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. The Bryans now have 8 Majors – just three away from the Woodies’ 11. This calls for a chest bump! Or something. . .
Claps and kudos to:
No. 33 seeded John Isner for following up his first ATP tour title in Auckland with his second consecutive Round of 16 effort in a Major tournament. His opponents praised his serve as one of the very best on tour and the 6 foot 9 inch American proved to be more del Potro than Dr. Ivo during his gutsy four set win over Gael Monfils. (I think that’s a good thing.)
Marin Cilic for making the commentators look smart for picking him as a tournament dark horse. He got within two sets of being the Australian Open’s “surprise” finalist, showing off a more nuanced and flexible game than most of his big man counterparts and “Big ‘N’ Tall” measures of heart and class. I’m very excited to see what he achieves next.
Yes, I would’ve liked to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga back in the final, but he had the misfortune of meeting Roger “taking names” Federer in the semis. It was an ugly way to end what was an otherwise beautiful tournament for the flashy Frenchman. Winning back-to-back five setters – the first two he’s ever played in his career – was an impressive, statement-making achievement.
Props go to: James Blake for putting forth a top 15 effort vs. del Potro, Nicolas Almagro for playing a thrilling five setter vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round – with a broken left wrist – and Andy Roddick for slipping past Fernando Gonzalez when the Chilean was living up to his nickname. A wry à bientôt goes to Fabrice Santoro for “un-retiring” long enough to play in his fourth consecutive decade on tour. See you in 2020.
And of course, no mention of male standouts Down Under would be complete without a mention of Nikolay Davydenko, who left Melbourne without a title but defied expectations by becoming the media darling of the tournament. Kolya the Obscure got the last laugh. From his last press conference:
Q. It’s good you can laugh about it now. Many players would be pissed off after the match. You’re laughing now.
NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: Yeah, with you guys, what I need to do?
Just keep the laughs coming, Nikolay!
SINO-STARLETS AND BANGING BELGIANS
I think the obvious surprise standouts on the ladies’ side are Li Na and Zheng Jie of China. They raised the profile of Chinese tennis to a new level, charming new fans with their play and their wit. I just hope reporters learn to ask more interesting questions:
Q. This was a great day for China, for you two women. Where are the men? Where are the Chinese men?
NA LI: The Chinese men in China (smiling).
Q. It’s the question we always ask. What are they doing in China, all these men?
NA LI: They still sleeping. They didn’t wake up. I was waiting they wake up also, yeah (smiling).
Both Li and Zheng were asked a version of this “where are the men?!” question in almost every one of their press conferences, which begs another question: “Who cares?”
Nadia Petrova was another surprise star, announcing herself with the subtlety of a freight train with her 6-0, 6-1 decimation of Kim Clijsters in the third round. She followed that up with a good win over third seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova but didn’t have enough coal in the stove to take Henin past a tight two sets. Her self-described new attitude and improved fitness bode well for her future results – especially if she’s not forced to play two dangerous Belgians in the early rounds.
Speaking of, let’s not forget Yanina Wickmayer, playing on a reprieve from her “whereabouts” ban. She played through qualifying, injury and a number of tough early round matches before fading against Justin Henin in the 4th round. She’s got game and mentality to be much more than a third wheel on the Henin/Clijsters bandwagon.
Oh, and how about that Justine Henin? She beat Dementieva, Petrova, Wickmayer and still had the energy to take Serena to three? Someone deserves a frosty mug of Duvel and a cone of Belgian frites.
The tab’s on me, Elena Dementieva. Your sacrifice gave us the best Major women’s final we’ve had in years.
I could go on about Maria Kirilenko, but I think she’s had enough attention. Pressing question: Is the “other Maria” ready to carry the Russian Tennis Babe flag now Maria Sharapova is dangling in the breeze?
INJURIES, FAKE-OUTS AND NAGS
Maria, Maria. Everybody’s wondering what the future holds. After beating Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in some pre-Major exos, the immediate future looked brighter for the richest woman in sport (or maybe it was just the shine off those new Tiffany earrings?) But then she self-destructed against Kirilenko in the first round last week and now her immediate prospects are about as attractive as that sea kelp nightie she was wearing on court.
It’s not just us fans who are wondering, here’s a snippet from Judy Murray’s amusing Australian Open blog (with a Baby Fed bonus):
“I also saw Rog’s twins for the first time today in the player lounge. So cute. No sign of Sharapova though. There is a lot of chat out here about her defeat to Kirilenko yesterday and whether she will ever get back to the top of the game.”
A random funny tidbit from Judy’s blog: “Bit of random chat about Justine. Apparently she is missing her dog Deuce and speaks to him every night on Skype! How funny is that?” Click here for more.
More than Sharapova’s unsightly upset, Nadal’s quarterfinal tap out has us worrying and wondering about a major champion’s future. The injury is supposedly a right hamstring tear and not a recurrence of the knee tendinitis that Nadal suffered last year. (click here for more) Rafa says he’s relieved by the news, but do we feel any better?
Nadal’s retirement overshadowed the miseries of the tournament’s other second seed, Dinara Safina, who was forced to retire in the Round of 16 when her bothersome back seized up. Watching her tearful press conference, I was saddened not just by the sight of a hard working, motivated player being betrayed by her body but by the fact that no one really cared that much. At least being the punching bag for the WTA’s ranking system came with a little attention.
Dinara Safina wasn’t big news, but injuries – real, imagined and exaggerated – were. Injuries were a hot topic of this tournament from the very beginning, when 15th seeded Gilles Simon pulled out, David Nalbandian bailed with an abdominal problem (no, not that abdominal problem) and both del Potro (wrist) and Monfils (shoulder) started the expectation-lowering rumors going. Youzhny withdrew early with a trendy wrist problem. Andy Roddick looked like he was ready to tap out during his match vs. Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic probably considered it during his impromptu barf break – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga wouldn’t have put it past him. Marcos Baghdatis disappointed fans ready for a feisty rematch vs. Lleyton Hewitt when he retired with a shoulder problem. Hewitt had hip surgery after losing to Roger Federer in his next round – though he didn’t mention the problem until after the procedure. Serena Williams also went the Aussie way, by insisting that she was fit enough to play despite the yards of Ace bandages wrapped around her extremities. Aussie Ana Ivanovic made good on her nickname, keeping mum about a torn glute muscle while weathering a barrage of doom and gloom from the press room.
Andy Murray, who grasped at nearly every part of his lower body while losing the final to a fit Roger Federer, suffered from an acute wardrobe malfunction:
Q. The end of the tiebreaker you were touching your left hip. Was there a problem there or just tightness?
ANDY MURRAY: It’s not really a problem. It’s not really my left hip. It’s quite hard to explain. It’s more sort of my lower back is just stiff, like I had most of the tournament. It’s just where we play ‑‑ I wear cycling shorts, and sometimes they’re quite tight, so you need to ‑‑ you know, Roddick does it a lot, it’s kind of what Rafa does on his other side.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, but basically my hip is fine. It was just the cycling shorts were tight (smiling).
Maybe he should take inspiration form his idol Andre Agassi (or his kilt-wearing brethren) and go commando, instead.
Tennis.com’s Peter Bodo had the final word on injuries during the fortnight, in his piece titled “It’s always something.” He complained that ESPN’s commentators (among others) were over-eager to explain every dip and turn in a match with a player’s injury – rumored, faked or real.
Which brings us to the always hot topic of tennis commentators. I spent my wee hours with P-Mac and friends at ESPN2. My verdict – they respect the event, but not always the moment. I love the hundred-some hours of LIVE (hear that NBC?) coverage and the production quality of the broadcast is top notch. I giggle at Brad Gilbert’s silly nicknames for the players, appreciate Darren Cahill’s insights and manage to block Chris Fowler out. My main complaint is that ESPN spends way too much time “in studio” when there are real, live matches going on on-court. Less talk, fewer talking heads and even more tennis – that’s the ideal And how about letting the match play out a bit before pronouncing a player done and dusted or on the verge of a odds defying comeback?
But we’re free to talk as much as we want now that the tournament is over! What were your impressions of this year’s Australian Open? Any disappointments, revelations, or late night confessions?