Posts Tagged ‘Ivan Lendl’

PostHeaderIcon Rafa Fatigue and Andy’s Sad Wimbledon Exit: The Big Four No More?

Andy Murray (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

Andy Murray (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

For much of this year, I’ve been tempted to write a piece titled, “The Big Four No More”. To be clear, this isn’t that piece. But if there’s anything that we’ve learned from the past couple of days at Wimbledon, it’s that the Big Four is in a weakened state from which it might not recover.

Let’s start with Rafa Nadal’s loss to Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16. Actually, let’s go back even further to Paris, and Rafa’s 9th French Open title. It was a great victory over a man, Novak Djokovic, who’d bested him in the last 4 finals they’d contested.

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Rafa Nadal (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

It was also troubling given the continuing back issues that have plagued Rafa since Australia. It affected his serve throughout the tournament, but flared badly late in the fourth set of that final. If not for Novak’s own weakened condition, he might possibly have fought back, forced, then won a deciding set with Rafa powerless to stop him.

I have a strong feeling that this might have been the last time that Rafa bites that trophy. Between his troublesome knees, now-troublesome back, and the ever-present fatigued look of concern, the wear and tear of his grinding style can no longer be denied. Rafa’s body is giving out.

Fast-forward to London, and the workman-like manner in which Rafa was forced to eke out wins in his early round matches. Now that book is out, so to speak, on how to beat Rafa (for those who can successfully execute the game plan), he has to work harder than ever to make it to the later rounds.

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By the time he got to Kyrgios, there was no higher gear left in his game. What was on display was all that he had to give. We were all left waiting for a gear shift that Rafa was unable to muster. But let’s be honest: he’s been missing that gear for most of the season. After all, how can you find another gear when you’re maxed out?

Body issues aside, the more troubling aspect of this loss was the stubborn manner in which he refused to change his tactics against Kyrgios. The majority of my tweets from that match were pleas for Rafa to stop hitting to the Kyrgios’ backhand. But they were pleas that fell on deaf ears. With Federer-like resistance, Rafa kept hoping to break down a shot that burned him time and again.

Maybe it’s his age, his body, the fatigue, or maybe the cumulative effect of all with the additional pressure of the top ranking, but I get a sense that it’s hard for him, physically and mentally, to keep tweaking his game for improvements. Unfortunately, if he can’t keep changing to stay ahead of talented young guys like Kyrgios, his time at the top will end; sooner rather than later.

Andy Murray’s descent from the Big Four began long before his sad exit from Wimbledon after a quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov. (Sad is actually an understatement for a match that was so spectacularly awful from a 2-time Slam winner, defending Gentlemen’s champion, and Olympic gold medalist.)

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Andy’s AELTC triumph last year was one of the greatest things to happen to him, but also one of the worst. The great part was immediately obvious. The worst began to manifest almost as soon as he hit the US hard court swing with early losses in Montreal and Cincinnati. It peaked at the US Open with early round struggles leading to a straight sets quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka.

His play throughout was spotty at best, and lacking focus. Though there was an understandable period of transition after winning his Wimbledon dream title, his level of play afterward, and equally poor attitude, were disappointing.

Exploratory surgery and time off for healing in the fall may have helped with back issues, but certainly didn’t with his game and attitude. His game continued to flounder in the early part of the ’14 season, and losses in winnable matches started to mount.

Losses are one thing, but regression to his pre-Champion days was another. Andy behaved poorly whenever his then-coach Ivan Lendl wasn’t around. He’d swear, bark at his box and, once again, endlessly reach for phantom injuries on his leg or back when matches got tight.

Each of the Big Four has played matches without their coach, and none have regressed to earlier stages in their career while doing so.

(Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

(Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

After his split with Lendl and a disappointing clay season, Andy looked ready for a credible defense of his Wimbledon title with confident victories in his first four matches. Moreover, he finally looked like he remembered what it meant to be a champion. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

He was simply awful in his quarterfinal against Grigor. His reliable groundstrokes, both forehand and backhand, often ended halfway up the net. His incredible defense was “hit or miss”, mostly “miss”. His overheads and volleys were terrible. His focus was lacking, and his overall demeanor was defeatist, at best.

These disappointing displays from Andy are unacceptable. Membership in the “Big Four” requires better than these types of efforts from a player who shouldn’t need to be reminded of his championship credentials. Even Rafa, stubborn as he was in his loss to Kyrgios, remembered to show his championship mettle in defeat. He always does. The same is true of Roger, and generally of Novak as well. Andy needs to do the same.

Some might want to blame Andy’s early-season woes on Lendl’s departure, or his Wimbledon loss on Amelie Mauresmo’s failings as his new coach. Both would be wrong. Ivan surely didn’t give Andy any special tips to win those Slams, nor did Amelie advise him to play as horribly as he did against Grigor. Good coaching is necessary to any player’s success, but a champion’s will to succeed must come from within.

Andy has lost that will, and in so doing has lost his late-entry membership in the Big Four. Can that change for him? Depends on how much he wants to step up and act the part.

For now, Novak and Roger are safe. In spite of recent match focus struggles, Novak is still well in his prime. And as long as Roger’s body cooperates, he’s mentally ready to step up and compete with anyone.

How about Rafa? I’m worried about his body. Then again, I was worried about his body last summer after Cincinnati and he went on to win the US Open. So you never know. As far as Andy is concerned, it’s hard to know. That depends upon Andy, and if he can ever act like the champion that he is. To be honest though, I’m not hopeful.

PostHeaderIcon It’s Complicated: The Bottom Line on Caroline and Andy’s Coaching Changes

Andy Murray working with former coach Ivan Lendl at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open.

Andy Murray working with former coach Ivan Lendl at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open.

The relationship between player and coach in tennis is an odd one. Players hire coaches to push them beyond their comfort zone in order to get to the next level. But the player is also the one who signs the paychecks. Since it’s rare that a player knows best how to take their career to the next level, this can lead to poor decision-making with respect to coaching changes.

Such is the case with two big changes that have been announced this past week. The first, while not wholly unexpected, is mind-numbingly comical nonetheless. Danish player Caroline Wozniacki split with her coach, Michael Mortensen, after only 3 months.

On the ATP front, Andy Murray split from Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl, the coach who helped propel him to both Olympic and Grand Slam success. Both of these changes are noteworthy, but for very different reasons. Let’s start first with Wozniacki.

Caroline Wozniacki at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open with her father, Piotr (in blue).

After an early loss at the Australian Open, Caro hired Mortensen after firing Sharapova’s old coach, Thomas Hogstedt. The explanation was “no chemistry”, which is valid. Sometimes the personalities don’t mesh and you need to course-correct. Enter Mortensen.

All statements after the hire were positive from both camps. At the time, Mortensen said, “She needs to get her joy in playing back – both in matches and on the practice court.” Caro echoed similar sentiments, saying, “He has a very positive attitude to both the game and the training, and he has a good way of saying things. He is passionate about the sport and I like that. It is very motivating.”

Fast forward to last week’s firing. Mortensen, who’s maintained an “I’m not afraid of being fired” attitude throughout, even given Caroline’s past coach revolving door, told the newspaper Esktra Bladet “I can’t do much more right now. It’s better if the two of them continue working alone.”

I’d like to feel sorry for Mortensen, but can’t after reading interviews like the one he gave to Sporten. (Note: Google Translate does a decent job with the Danish translation. Click here for pdf of translated article.) When you sign on to coach someone who has repeatedly fired coaches in lieu of working with her father, Piotr, then tell the press “I fear nothing”, you are asking to be knocked down a peg.

For Caroline, I can’t help but be perplexed if this is the best solution to her downward spiral; because if she could have gone further with her father, she would have. More to the point, you’re guaranteed to not progress with anyone if they’re not allowed more than 2-4 months to create a positive impact. Here’s hoping that she ends this coaching charade and doesn’t repeat the cycle with another new hire.

Murray’s coaching change, while not necessarily perplexing, elicits other larger questions on Andy’s championship character. Few would think it a realistic expectation that Ivan Lendl would, in the prime years of retirement, opt to return to the grueling travel schedule of life on tour, even as a coach. There was always going to be a shelf-life to this relationship.

The problem for Andy, however, is one that hits to the heart of his character as a champion. Though he’s won 2 Slams and Olympic gold under Lendl’s tutelage, he has often struggled to maintain a championship caliber of deportment without Lendl in his player’s box. With Lendl present, Andy’s overall level was elevated. Without Lendl, he regressed to pre-Lendl barking, swearing, body-part grabbing and equivalent match results.

So before the post-mortem begins on their dissolved partnership, one must question the larger issue of why Andy was unable to maintain a certain standard in Lendl’s absence. This was the point made by Neil Harman when I asked his thoughts on the matter, and it’s a fair one.

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafa Nadal all have played without their primary coaches present, and never “reverted”. Coach or no coach, shouldn’t Andy expect more from himself as a 2-time Slam champ and Olympic gold medalist? I would think so if you are playing to achieve even greater heights in your career. However, if you’ve accomplished everything you set out to accomplish as a player, maybe not.

Bottom line for both: Wozniacki needs to stop the madness and go it alone from here on out, and Murray needs someone but, more importantly, needs to ask himself what manner of champion he wants to be.

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 1: SAP Open & Sony Open

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At my workstation in the Sony Open press room

It’s that time of year where I look back at my tournament travels, and pluck out some of the jewels from my time in the press room to share with you all. I was on the ground at four events this year: SAP Open, Sony Open, Bank of the West Classic, and the Western and Southern Open. For easier reading, I’ll start with the first two tournaments I attended earlier in the year, then finish in Part 2 with the summer tournaments.
So without further ado, here’s my 2013 “backstage tour”.

SAP Open

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Lindsay Davenport and Steffi Graf

The SAP Open ended its’ run with a Milos Raonic three-peat, and way too many empty seats. A notable bright spot was the mixed doubles exhibition match featuring Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport, Andy Roddick, and Justin Gimelstob. The best moment for me came when I was sitting in the press room afterward lobbing questions at Lindsay and Steffi. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about their ’99 Wimbledon final; their only meeting in a Slam final. They, however, had a different take on past matches. Listen to their press conference, and try not to laugh at their answer to the first question from yours truly.


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Justin Gimelstob and Andy Roddick

Longtime friends Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob put on a command performance in their post-match press conference. What hopefully wasn’t lost on those in attendance was a serious discussion of the problematic business model for the modern-day tennis tournaments. The SAP Open struggled with attendance issues, but so do many others. So while players are demanding a bigger share of the revenue, tournament directors are struggling to fill sufficient seats for said revenue and sponsorship monies. Moving tournaments to new markets (other countries) may seem like a good short-term solution, but they’ll probably face the same attendance issues as here in the states. I just hope we don’t lose anymore.


I love pumping veteran journalists for info whenever possible. I ran into Vern Glenn, a prominent Bay Area sportscaster, while he was trying to get his Wi-Fi working on his laptop. He gave me this nugget in reference to working in (and getting paid in) this business: “Always make sure they keep you on scholarship!” I’m trying Vern, I’m trying.


sap-tennis-ball-cookies-editGoodbye SAP Open! I will miss your lemon-flavored tennis ball cookies! There were NEVER enough to truly satisfy my desires, but I enjoyed the few I got. 😉

(BTW, I have absolutely no idea who’s hand that is across from mine. I know I just turned 50, but is my memory getting THAT bad already???)

Sony Open

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Maria Sharapova listens to a question

My personal feeling has always been that you get better answers from a player when you’re clear about what you’re asking, and aren’t antagonistic in doing so. This is especially true when that player is named Maria Sharapova. This was a small part of Maria’s answers to one particular journalist who didn’t get that memo:

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Why are you asking me if you saw it? Why are you asking me if you heard it yourself? I mean, I can’t remember exactly what he said. I mean, there’s a tape. Maybe I can get you a copy.

You can read the full exchange here, and also listen to the full press conference audio.


Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Some of the best moments at tournaments happen when you least expect it…like the conversation I had with Jelena Jankovic’s hitting partner, Goran Tosic, in the shuttle back to the hotel one night. Though I certainly could have tried, I didn’t pump him for info on Jelena’s condition after her late-night victory over Roberta Vinci. But I did get a nice insight into the hustling that a lower level player must do in order to make ends meet as a pro tennis player. Nice guy too. I wish him well in 2014.


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Mary Carillo and I in Miami

Mary Carillo is one of the main reasons I make the yearly trek to Miami. I ran into Mary within my first 10 minutes on my first trip, and got a great picture with her that meant the world to me. Fast forward 5 years and I’m sitting with Mary in a post-match presser for Maria after her quarterfinal win over Sara Errani. I re-introduce myself, tell her the “Mary story”, give her my card, and was ready to savor the moment just as it was. The following day, Mary grabbed my arm as she walked by me and said, “Hey Kevin. I went to your site this morning. You kept me very entertained.” Those words continue to mean more to me than almost any other compliment I’ve received.


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The elusive and rare Ivan Lendl smile

Before heading to the airport, I made one last trip out to the Crandon Park to get some photos before the men’s final. And while watching Andy Murray warm up prior to his match with David Ferrer, I caught a rare glimpse of a tennis unicorn: an Ivan Lendl smile. Who knew? And not only was he smiling, he was also joking around with a couple of young Murray fans who were watching practice. I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things… 😉


At the airport, my Miami trip ended on a very odd “Twilight Zone” moment. For those familiar with the situation of Kevin Ware the college basketball player, you must surely understand how words can’t express what it was like to check my twitter feed one last time on the plane home only to read about “Kevin Ware’s horrific injury” when your name is Kevin Ware and you aren’t horrifically injured…
(On the advice of one of my twitter followers, I avoided watching the video of his injury — and still haven’t seen it to this day. Thanks Alice!)

*** Next up is The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West & Western and Southern Open

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One final picture at the Western and Southern Open

I started my “backstage tour” with the SAP Open and the Sony Open. Now it’s on to the Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open, my two summer tournaments.

Bank of the West Classic

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I needed a moustache like this at the Bank of the West Classic

I pulled double duty at this year’s BOTW, starting my week at Stanford first as a line umpire during the qualifying rounds, and then moving into the press room for the start of main draw matches. It was a great experience, and not one player threatened to shove a tennis ball down my throat. But a part of me really wanted to put on a fake moustache or something during my line umpire stint so that players wouldn’t recognize me once I made the switch to media.


This year’s tournament got off to a rough start with the non-participation of defending champion Serena Williams, and the late withdrawals of Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki, Kirsten Flipkens, and Maria Sharapova after Wimbledon. I hate to think the worst, but this wasn’t a good sign for a tournament that’s been struggling to re-discover the deep fields it once saw. I’d hate to see it fall by the wayside like the now-defunct SAP Open, the ATP LA event, and the WTA Carson event.

Western and Southern Open

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Vika Azarenka, relaxed and chatty in Cincy

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. While looking back at my WTA All Access hour notes from Cincinnati, it’s easy to see in hindsight every clue for how the tournament would ultimately unfold. Serena came into the event healthy and focused, but a little tired. Vika Azarenka came in feeling no pressure. Marion Bartoli came in as glib as ever, but not particularly motivated. And Maria Sharapova came in with her cap pulled down low and tight-lipped about her work with Jimmy Connors. (For the record, Serena lost in the final, Vika won in the final, Marion retired, and Maria canned Connors after an opening loss to Sloane Stephens.)


Speaking of Maria and Jimmy… I was given a chance to chat with Milos Raonic in the Player’s Lounge with another journalist. While waiting for (a very late) Milos, Jimmy comes over to chat with the other journalist. The only thing I here is “So, what did you think about that?” referring to Maria’s loss. I would have given almost anything to follow up with him on that one!


BTW, the Milos Raonic mini-interview was okay too, but can we talk about the lack of proper and timely apology to Juan Martin Del Potro for your “touching the net” malfeasance at the Rogers Cup?


(Click the arrow to play Milos’ pre-tourney presser audio. He addresses the Rogers Cup incident after the 6:00 mark.)


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Jack and I grabbing food before Rafa v Roger

Covering a tournament can be a solitary experience, which is why it’s great when you can have positive interactions with the other folks in the press room. But more than the interaction, these moments also give one a chance to share ideas and expand your knowledge: something I love to do. I had a few of these in Cincinnati, but one stands out above the others. After one particular post-match press conference, I found myself watching a WTA stadium match with Courtney Nguyen on one of the main interview room monitors. I don’t know how it happened, but the on-court action led to a fascinating discussion of the issues and miscues facing the WTA as it tries to broaden its’ appeal. So here’s a shout out to Courtney for helping my expansion. Honorable mention goes to my press room neighbor, Jack Adam, for sharing a great evening quarterfinal between Nadal and Federer.


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Rafa Nadal in the press room

Rafa played amazing tennis to win the Cincy title, but the wear and tear of his phenomenal season was starting to show on his battered body. As the week progressed, Rafa would sometimes take the stairs one at a time to get to the interview table at his press conferences.Not a good sight! So when asked to write about Rafa’s chances at winning the US Open, I had serious doubts that he could withstand the two week hard court pounding. He proved me wrong, of course. But as the folks at RafaelNadalFans.com reminded me, that’s not a bad thing to be wrong about.


Memorable 1-on-1, #1: Grigor Dimitrov finally started to realize the potential in his game this year, but still lost a heartbreaker to Rafa Nadal 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. After the loss, I asked for and received a 1-on-1with Grigor outside of the men’s locker room. Yep, these are the moments that make the work worthwhile! Click arrow to listen to the audio.


(click the arrow to play Grigor’s interview audio)


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Novak Djokovic in the press room

Memorable 1-on-1, #2: Novak Djokovic completely destroyed David Goffin in the R16. Roger Federer, on the other hand, was pushed to the wall against Tommy Haas in a gripping 3-setter. Because it was my first chance for press with Novak, I went to the main press room when his time was announced. Everyone else in the press room stayed to watch Roger’s match. So when Novak arrived in press, he was greeted by yours truly and the transcribers, and no one else. Though he wasn’t happy with the situation (understatement), he sat down and answered a handful of questions. And that’s how I got my first 1-on-1 interview with a world #1. Click here to read the transcript.


*** That’s all for the tournaments I covered. I could write more, but you get the picture. Have a great Holiday Season, and a safe New Years! And a very special Thank You to Karen P./Tennis Panorama for my media credentials in 2013. See you at Indian Wells in 2014.

PostHeaderIcon Federer Ousted, Carla’s Bagels, and Gutsy Gasquet: A Week Two Shock or Not

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Tommy Robredo (Peter Staples/usopen.org)

Though not quite as crazed as Wimbledon, this US Open has definitely had its’ fair share of shock results. The biggest one, of course, came right after my Sunday rapid-fire Shock or Not. So let’s dive in and get caught up on the latest “shocks” before we get to the final weekend.

Serena Williams defeats Sloane Stephens: Shock or Not? Not

This win supports the claim that Serena’s ankle injury hampered her efforts against Sloane down under. But Sloane did make an excellent argument for being Serena’s heir apparent… at least for the first set.

Mikhail Youzhny defeats Tommy Haas: Shock or Not? Shock

Though the best of five Slam format is harder on his “more experienced” body, I still figured he would get through this match.

Roger Federer loses to Tommy Robredo: Shock or Not? Eye-Popping Shock

Though this has already been written about, there’s no way I could NOT include it. Roger was 10-0 against Robredo, and has lost only 3 sets. But as the saying goes, “Nobody beats <fill in name> <fill in number> times in a row.”

Richard Gasquet defeats Milos Raonic: Shock or Not? Shock

Richard Gasquet, probably the most fragile of the French players, beat hard-serving Milos (39 aces) in five sets after surviving a match point in hot/humid conditions. There’s oh so much to be shocked about with this one…

Milos Raonic loses after holding a match point: Shock or Not? I’d like to say Shock, but…

Milos has disappointed in 2013. I hope this is leading up to the same delayed-but-stellar results from his coach (Ljubicic) that Murray got from his coach (Lendl).

Novak Djokovic loses only 3 games to Marcel Granollers: Shock or Not? Shock

Marcel is no patsy, but he sure played the part against Novak. It was the tennis version of the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals.

Serena Williams loses ZERO games to Carla Suarez Navarro: Shock or Not? Not Shocked, but…

I’d never expect Serena to let up against any opponent, but come on Serena! You gave poor Carla a double bagel on her birthday?! Poor thing probably cried the rest of the night thinking “Feliz pinche cumpleanos!”

Ashe Stadium saw 4 bagel sets between Novak and Serena’s matches: Shock or Not? Shock

Novak over Marcel 6-3 6-0 6-0 followed by Serena over Carla 6-0 6-0. Not a lot of stellar points. I hope the food court lines weren’t too long.

Stan Wawrinka defeats Tomas Berdych: Shock or Not? Shock

Stan’s a fine player, but Tomas was really on the edge of a breakthrough with the elite guys.  This result, however, is certainly a step or two back.

Flavia Pennetta defeats Roberta Vinci: Shock or Not? Not

Before her wrist issues, Flavia was definitely a player to watch. Her victory over Vinci, a 2013 titleholder, is a great win by any standard! And as was noted during the match, the difference between winning the match and losing was $325k. Not bad Flavia, not bad.

Richard Gasquet defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? HUGE shock!

Richard outlasted the tour’s Eveready bunny! This tweet says it all:

 

Fingers crossed for “sibling doubles” teams today as the Bryans face the tough pair of Paes/Stepanek in their quest for a calendar year Grand Slam, and the Williams sisters face the top-seeded Italians. The Murray-Wawrinka winner is a coin toss given Stan’s level of play in New York, and Youzhny’s run comes to an end with a ruthless thrashing by Djokovic.

Enjoy!

PostHeaderIcon Brilliance, Drama, Controversy, and History: Ten Final Thoughts on This Australian Open

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The 2013 edition of the Australian Open had everything: déjà vu, extreme heat, summer cold, ankle and head injuries, drama, rivalries, and, oh yeah, brilliant tennis with a side of history.  It’s too much to summarize in 10 final thoughts without turning this into “War and Peace”.  So let’s make it a “baker’s dozen” so I can give you a few more, and accept my apologies for all of the things NOT covered in this rendition “Final Thoughts”. 
Let’s start with the champions…

  1. Congratulations to Novak Djokovic on an historic three-peat in Melbourne.  Though it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be in the final, Novak weathered the Andy Murray storm and came through in four sets.  With this third Aussie title in three years (following on the heels of his ATP World Tour Championship), the bar has been raised even further for the rest of the top guys. I wonder if Rafa watched?
  2. I may not always think that Victoria Azarenka comports herself as a No. 1 should (see Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Rafael Nadal), but I give her mad props for winning the title in front of a hostile crowd.  Apart from Serena Williams’ infamous win over Kim Clijsters at Indian Wells, few players have successfully battled external as well as internal stresses like she did following her controversial medical timeout against Sloane Stephens.  I hope that she’s able to reflect on this episode later and realize that life is a lot easier when you have the crowd with you and not against you.
  3. Andy Murray is an infinitely better player now than he was last year at this time.  He’s freakishly “fit”, much more disciplined, faster than ever, and is as aggressive as needed to challenge his rivals.  The partnership with Lendl has clearly paid benefits, and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of his spring plays out after this loss. Now if he could just do something about that “potty mouth”!
  4. It was great to see Li Na’s resurgence with the help of her new coach, Carlos Rodriguez. He’s helped her fitness and given her better strategic focus for her matches.  She might still be prone to stretches of errors, but deals with them better now. More importantly, in a sport where so many take themselves way too seriously, she continues to be a breath of fresh air.  And yes, her husband continues to provide much of her press conference comedic material.
  5. Williams Sister Summary
    Serena: It will be interesting to see how Serena rebounds from a bum ankle and the loss to her “protégée” of weeks, Sloan Stephens.  She’s not playing at the Open GDF, is doubtful for the upcoming Fed Cup match against Italy, and will undoubtedly continue to be a no-show at Indian Wells. So our first glimpse of her post-Australia will be on the hard courts of Miami before heading onto clay.  Will she come into Miami with something to prove, or will she be more focused on getting the No. 1 ranking?  We’ll find out in March.

    Venus:  Venus continues to be at a crossroads as she balances the world of professional tennis while coping with a chronic condition.  On ability alone, Venus is still capable of beating many.  But when it comes to the game’s elite, her struggles are only going to increase.  You can’t beat elite players when your condition doesn’t allow you to train sufficiently in order to do so.  Many friends have asked me when I think she might retire, but I’m uncomfortable scripting anyone’s retirement speech. She’s got lots of good tennis left in her, so it’s her decision alone; even if I do think that playing until the Rio Olympics isn’t very realistic.

  6. Sloane Stephens had a heck of an Australian summer, reaching the Brisbane quarters, and the Hobart and Australian Open semis. Her ranking has jumped to No. 17, her Twitter followers have tripled, and the endorsement opportunities seem endless for her cute face with smile and personality to match.  She’s still got lots of room for improvement, technically and strategically, but looks to be much more capable of realizing her potential than some of the temporary standouts of the past few years. Next up: Madison Keys.
  7. Roger Federer played back-to-back five setters for the first in his illustrious Slam career, and it showed in that last set against Murray.  Though he’s still able to easily dispatch the young ones like Tomic and Raonic at his spry age of 31, he’s physically hard-pressed against the stronger guys like Tsonga, Berdych, Murray, Nadal, and Djokovic.  We’re all still in awe of his abilities, but Doug Robson of USA Today put it best when he tweeted, “There have been times in this match when Federer just looks…older.”
  8. There’s no way to come out of this Open and NOT feel sorry for world No. 5, David Ferrer.  He’s hard-working, and a great player coming off of his most successful year.  But there’s absolutely no way he leaves from that semifinal embarrassment against Djokovic feeling good about his future prospects against the four players in front of him.
  9. With John Isner sidelined due to a knee injury, American men had one of their worst showings in years. American women, on the other hand, showed great talent and depth. After many years of wondering who might fill the inevitable void of the post-Williams Sisters era, we now have names: Stephens, Hampton, McHale, Keys, Lepchenko, and Davis.
  10. Speaking of American men and women, Davis and Fed Cup ties are looming on the horizon. The men take on Brazil at home while the women travel to Italy. Even if Isner doesn’t play because of his ongoing knee issues (replaced by Ryan Harrison), the men look to have an easier time than the women. The best that the Brazilians can offer for resistance is a struggling Thomaz Belluci. The Italians, however, will most likely be led by Sara Errani, Francesca Schiavone, and Roberta Vinci. Even with the depth of talent, that’s a formidable team to face.  Even more so for a team that will likely be without Venus or Serena.
  11. ESPN’s match commentary left much to be desired. With too many commentators working every match, the chatter was incessant. The most dissonant moments were when studio interviews ran side-by-side on screen against compelling matches, making both unbearable to watch.  The Tennis Channel, on the other hand, did a great job.  Martina Navratilova and Bill Macatee were a great combo, and the occasional court reports from Lindsay Davenport and Justin Gimelstob added just the right amount to the equation.  Good job TC.
  12. The issue of “grunting” grabbed the spotlight again after an Open that featured some full-throated screaming, and not just from the usual suspects. It’s got to be dealt with, and not just because of the potential hindrance to their opponents. Stay tuned for my piece grunting and tennis’ bottom line.
  13. Victoria Azarenka isn’t the most well-liked player on tour, but the controversy around her questionable medical timeout against Sloane Stephens was over the top!  Led by commentator Patrick “It’s a travesty” McEnroe, Vika was flayed in the press non-stop until the moment she walked on court for the final. It was wrong, especially given the many instances of this type of MTO being used in the past without the same ire (Mary Pierce versus Elena Dementieva, 2005 US Open). The media obsession and coverage of this incident almost felt equivalent to that surrounding Serena’s “foot fault” incident. Unless I’m mistaken, media does NOT equal bully pulpit.  Does it?

It’s time to get off my soapbox, and wrap this up. G’day until next year!

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