After the close of a fortnight at once surprising and unsurprising, we review the notable figures in the WTA field at the Australian Open. Grading influenced by expectations, quality of competition, and other factors in addition to raw results.
Azarenka: The first woman in over three decades to win her second major by defending her first, she consolidated her position as world #1 in the rankings and public enemy #1 in the eyes of many. What the media and general public may refuse to acknowledge is that Azarenka showed fortitude in regrouping from the controversy swirling around her semifinal—and from a miserable start to the final—to halt an extremely talented opponent on a torrid streak with virtually everyone in the arena cheering lustily against her. Her competitive desire rivals anyone on the Tour, and that attribute forms a key component of her success at elite tournaments notwithstanding her tendency to carry it too far at times. Like her or not, Azarenka is here to stay with a game perfectly suited to the moderately paced hard court’s that have become the dominant surface and a determination to win at any price. She probably will spend most of her career as a polarizing figure, but she appears to thrive on the hostility around her and relish the challenge of overcoming it. When the dust settled, moreover, her tears at the end suggested that she may have matured during the emotionally fraught fortnight after all. A
Li: Endearing herself to audiences around the world, Li smiled even when she twisted her ankle for the second time in the final and slammed the back of her head into the court. She smiled even as an Australian Open final slipped away from her for the second time after she had come within two games of her second major title. The best player here for most of the tournament, Li trumpeted her return to relevance by defeating consecutive top-four opponents Radwanska and Sharapova in straight sets. Not until after her first ankle injury, in fact, did she even lose a set here. When all of the components of her game click together, any opponent other than Serena will struggle to overcome someone with no apparent weakness. Much of the credit probably goes to coach Carlos Rodriguez for providing the discipline that she had lacked, but her ability to battle through injury after injury illustrated her inner steel. And, unlike the equally fierce competitor across the net in the final, she mingled that steel with the grace and warmth that emerged from that smile. A+
Sharapova: Continuing a trend that has defined many of her performances at the Australian Open, she mowed down several overmatched opponents to march deep into the draw, only to get mowed down herself late in the second week. We learned nothing new about Sharapova this tournament, instead receiving reminders that she can demolish or be demolished on any given day without warning. That said, her lack of match preparation did not appear to cost her, and her loss to Li hinged much more upon the Chinese star’s excellence than her own fallibility. Some threw excessive-celebration flags on Sharapova for her victory over an aging Venus, which unjustly obscured that transcendent performance in a nearly flawless stretch that set multiple Australian Open records for dominance. Her post-tournament ranking of #3 feels exactly right. B+
Serena: As with Sharapova, we learned nothing new about Serena. She continues to carve up the WTA like a cantaloupe when she is healthy and hungry, but she cannot overcome injuries as impressively as she once could. One cannot doubt that she would have finished off Stephens if not for her second injury of the tournament, and it is difficult to imagine the struggling serve of Azarenka or even the streaking Li stopping her after then. Depending on how her ankle recovers, though, Serena should regain the #1 ranking soon. Incomplete
Stephens: Putting aside the fact that she benefited from Serena’s injury, this tournament marked a decisive breakthrough for Stephens. Many players have lost to an injured Serena before, and it appeared that she would when she choked away a second-set lead and later trailed by a break in the third. Despite her competitive rawness, she managed to regroup in both instances and settle herself to record a career-defining win. Also satisfying was her convincing victory over fellow phenom Robson, and she should take Azarenka’s dubious medical timeouts as a compliment, illustrating how worried her resilience in the second set had made the world #1. A
Radwanska: Now just 1-6 in major quarterfinals (0-4 here), with her only victory a three-setter over Kirilenko, she did little to refute her reputation as a player who struggles to translate her success to the places that matter most. Radwanska entered the tournament having won consecutive titles in Auckland and Sydney, so she had not even dropped a set this year until she ran into the Li Na buzzsaw. She had chances to win that first set and turn around the momentum in the second, but once again she could find no answer to an opponent capable of outhitting her consistently without imploding at key moments. It’s still difficult to see Radwanska winning a major unless the draw falls just right. B
Makarova: As a clever wit noted on Twitter, she excels in places that end in –bourne. Winning Eastbourne as a qualifier once, Makarova reached her second straight quarterfinal in Melbourne by upsetting world #5 Kerber. Her defense and lefty angles created a scintillating combination to watch, perhaps honed by her doubles expertise. Once she fell behind early against Sharapova, she let too much negativity seep into her body language, but that match seemed unwinnable anyway. B+
Kuznetsova: One of three Russian women to reach the quarterfinals, this two-time major champion has revived her career in impressive fashion. Kuznetsova finally strung together a series of confidence-boosting victories at a prestigious tournament, displaying poise late in a tight third-setter against Wozniacki just when she might have crumbled in years past. Her sparkling athleticism set her apart from many of the more programmatic women at the top of the WTA. B+
Kerber: Similar to her performances at the preparatory tournaments, her Melbourne result was unremarkable in either a positive or negative sense. She fell before the quarterfinals for the third straight hard-court major since reaching the 2011 US Open semifinals, still looking tired from her busy season in 2012. That post-tournament ranking of #6 seems inflated—until you look at the women directly behind her. B-
WTA #7-9: This trio won two total matches at the Australian Open, finding a variety of ways to collapse. Last year’s quarterfinalist Errani could not hold serve against fellow clay specialist Suarez Navarro in an ominous sign for a year in which she must defend large quantities of points. Last year’s semifinalist Kvitova could not finish off Laura Robson amid a horrific cascade of double faults and groundstrokes dispatched to places unknown. Her confidence even more tattered than her game, the former Wimbledon champion nears a pivotal crossroads. At least one expected home hope Stosur to shatter Aussie dreams as painfully as possible, which she accomplished by twice failing to serve out a match against Zheng before dumping a second serve into the middle of the net down match point. F
Wozniacki: Many, including me, thought that she would fall to Lisicki in the first round. Let off the hook when the German self-destructed yet again, Wozniacki capitalized on her second life to win two more matches. Then the poise that she displayed at her best late in close matches deserted her as she fell two points short of closing out Kuznetsova. (As colleague David Kane has noted, that match posed a striking counterpoint to her earlier matches against the Russian.) Out of the top 10 after the tournament, Wozniacki continues to stagnate without much sign of recovery. C+
Pavlyuchenkova: Like fellow Brisbane runner-up Dimitrov, she crashed out of the tournament in the first round. What happens in Brisbane stays in Brisbane, or does it? Pavlyuchenkova has much to prove after a disastrous 2012 but plenty of talent with which to prove it. C
WTA young guns: From Stephens and Keys to Robson and Watson to Gavrilova and Putintseva, rising stars from around the world asserted themselves in Melbourne. The future looks bright with a variety of personalities and playing styles maturing in our midst. A
Kvitova vs. Robson: Hideous for the first two sets, it grew into the greatest WTA drama of the tournament not stoked by Azarenka. The question of whether the budding teenager could oust the major champion hovered through game after game that mixed the sublime with the absurd. It was hard to applaud, and equally hard to look away even as it careened deep into the Melbourne night. B
Errani/Vinci vs. Williams/Williams: Two of the greatest legends in the history of the sport faced the top doubles team, en route to their third title in the last four majors. After three sets and over two and a half hours, the Italians survived two American attempts to serve for the match and struck a blow for the value of doubles as more than a format for singles stars to hone their skills. This match also marked a rare occasion when David felled Goliath in a WTA dominated by the latter. A-
Women’s final: Seemingly everything imaginable happened in this profoundly gripping, profoundly weird climax to the tournament: fireworks, a concussion test, 16 service breaks, and a starker good vs. evil narrative than most Hollywood movies. As the service breaks suggested, the quality of tennis fluctuated dramatically from one point to the next with both women struggling to find their best form at the same time. Meanwhile, the dramatic tension soared to Shakespearean levels as the WTA produced its third straight three-set major final. A
Enjoy this tournament review? Come back tomorrow for the ATP edition.
A battle between two top-eight women opened the quarterfinal action on Rod Laver Arena today. Although she had lost to world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska last week, 2011 Australian Open finalist Li Na eked out a 7-5 6-3 victory tenser than the scoreline showed, extending her record this year to 13-1 and prolonging a recent run of success in Melbourne.
Showing what an evenly balanced encounter lay ahead, the first game lasted nearly 13 minutes as Li barely managed to hold while saving two break points. Unable to hit through Radwanska from the baseline, she obtained great success by closing into the net behind deep approaches, and she redirected the ball down both sidelines impressively. The stingy Pole refused to let her off the hook unless she produced not just one or two but several excellent shots strung together, and Li accumulated eight unforced errors before the game ended in an ominous sign for the future.
Also extended to deuce in her first service game, Radwanska benefited from two netted groundstrokes by her opponent on the last two points, including a strange miss just inches from the net of what looked like an easy putaway. The third game initially looked like an easier game for Li when she won the first two points with crisp backhands, but she then dropped three straight with unforced errors to fall behind break point yet again. Radwanska issued one of her rare donations on the next point, an uncharacteristic backhand error, before her opponent tossed away the next two for an early break.
An unwise net approach dumped the Pole in an early hole on serve a game later, allowing Li plenty of time to target the pass. Surprisingly, Radwanska lost her serve at love in the first short game of the match. A fine inside-out forehand erased a break point in the Chinese star’s next service game, but an errant backhand down the line yielded a second. Neither woman could find an easy route to a service hold, however, and Li recorded the fourth straight break of a match in which the returner had won more points than the server. Veering typically from the amazing to the abysmal, the former Roland Garros champion won four straight points from 0-30 down to hold serve without facing a break point for the first time.
The pressure now lay on Radwanska, serving at 3-4 after winning two total points in her previous two service games. Despite losing the first point, she did earn the quick hold, punctuated by her first ace. A dreadful game from Li that consisted of three unforced errors and a double fault gave Radwanska the opportunity to serve for the opening set. Hardly a secure proposition considering her struggles on serve before then, that effort went poorly from the outset with a botched challenge preceding a weak second serve and an ill-advised approach. A second straight break at love evened the match at 5-5 with three breaks apiece between the women.
On a key point at 15-30 in the next game, Radwanska again attempted to outmaneuver Li at the net with a crafty pass-lob combination. Her opponent tightened her focus to swat down the smash, which seemed to raise her spirits. She angled a lovely backhand winner cross-court on the next point and ultimately held with a strong first serve. Serving to force a tiebreak, Radwanska fell behind 15-30 too. In trouble at the net as Li eyed double set point, she leaped high enough to crack a backhand smash over her shoulder deep enough to draw an error. But she looked a bit weary in the next rally, attempting a drop shot from too deep in the court and with her opponent too close to the baseline. Li’s ensuing winner gave her a set point.
While she saved that first set point, Radwanska faced a second serve on her next set point and played defense throughout. A relatively patient Li carefully constructed the point, gradually moving her opponent further and further wide of the sidelines and progressively deeper behind the baseline until she positioned herself for a routine smash.
The first set had lasted over an hour and featured seven service breaks. An eighth arrived immediately to start the second set as Li suffered a predictable lull. More surprising was the love hold that followed from Radwanska, who swept eight straight points in a show of resilience after what could have felt like a demoralizing set. Quickly jumping back onto the scoreboard, Li held easily with an ace to stay within range and prevent the Pole from settling too deep into a comfort zone.
Sure enough, the Chinese broke back directly to erase the effects of her dip in form to start the set. Another convincing service game preceded a break at love as the match quickly started to slip away from the fourth seed. Having won four games in a row, Li firmly held the momentum in her corner as she stood just two games from the semifinals. Her run of points continued in a demonstration of her confidence, pushing Radwanska to the brink of defeat despite her 13-match winning streak.
To her credit, the Pole clung to her serve in a deuce game that forced Li to serve for a berth in the semifinal and kept her under some pressure. Although she lost the first two points with routine errors, she retained her aggressive attitude by hammering a series of backhands on the next point that set up a swing volley. Two break points soon hovered over her, but she continued to keep Radwanska on her heels with groundstrokes that landed near the baseline, even when stretched out of position. That trend continues for two more points, the last two of a match that ended with the fourth seed’s backhand out and the fourth seed out of the tournament.
Having lost all four of her Australian Open quarterfinals and six of seven quarterfinals at majors overall, Radwanska left with her 13-match winning streak ended in a match that she did not lack chances to seize. For Li, who reached her third semifinal here in four years, the victory reasserted her momentum in this key rivalry and demonstrated again how well her game suits the courts Down Under. She showed the grit that has made her known as “Nails” to many fans by winning the last three games of the first set and surviving the deuce game at its end.
When the quarterfinals begin, the action in singles compresses to Rod Laver Arena for the rest of the escalating drama. Here is a tour of what to expect from an all-Russian match, an all-Spanish match, and two collisions between top-eight contenders.
Li vs. Radwanska: These two top-eight women have compiled a history of closely contested meetings that has taken a few curious turns lately. After Radwanska won their first match of 2012, Li swept three straight on the second-half hard courts that included two routs. Aga’s revenge came with a flourish at Sydney last week, when she broke her former nemesis repeatedly en route to a straight-sets triumph, although she struggled to deliver the decisive blow. That match marked Li’s only loss of a season against twelve victories and a title, while Radwanska has won all 26 of her sets and has collected two titles.
Relatively unheralded as a contender, Li has progressed quietly through the draw but has looked very efficient in doing so as she has spurred memories of her 2011 final and 2010 semifinal here. Neither player should dominate on serve, despite solid efforts in that area from both here, so rallies should unfold that contrast the Chinese star’s flow with the Pole’s syncopation. Designed to disrupt, Radwanska’s smorgasbord of spins and speeds will test the rhythmic Li, who will aim to take time away from the world #4 by striking the ball early and constantly redirecting her groundstrokes. The woman who can impose her tone more thoroughly should prevail in a clash of mentally resilient competitor.
Ferrer vs. Almagro: Fond of playing Nadal to Almagro’s Ferrer, the man who will become the top-ranked Spaniard after this tournament never has lost to his compatriot. Some caveats apply, however, such as the dearth of outdoor hard-court meetings in a rivalry predictably centered on clay. Not since 2006 have these two quarterfinalists met on a surface similar to Rod Laver Arena, since when both of their games have improved dramatically. Moreover, Almagro often has kept their encounters extremely close, taking Ferrer to final sets in half of them and holding match points in a final-set tiebreak at Madrid last year.
Through the first four rounds, Ferrer has looked slightly the superior player. Recording his best performance at a hard-court major to date, Almagro needed five sets to escape an inexperienced American in his first match, and his dominance over the higher-ranked Tipsarevic lost some of its luster when the Serb retired. Also experiencing more difficulty than expected against an unheralded American, Ferrer rebounded from that four-setter to demolish a former tormentor in Nishikori. That match should boost his confidence for a more familiar foe in a quarterfinal where the favorite’s compact two-handed backhand will contrast intriguingly with the underdog’s florid one-hander.
Sharapova vs. Makarova: When they met in the same round here last year, the more famous Russian permitted just five games. Like the all-Spanish quarterfinal, the all-Russian quarterfinal offers the latest edition in a head-to-head controlled exclusively by one player. Sharapova has lost just one set in four meetings with Makarova, although they played two tight sets in Miami most recently. Mauled badly by Maria’s return on this court before, the lefty’s serve must sustain the pressure more successfully this time, and a high first-serve percentage would play a vital role in achieving that goal.
Not expected by most to reach consecutive quarterfinals in Melbourne, Makarova claims that she learned from last year’s experience to become a more mature competitor at this stage. The often fiery Russian indeed looked composed when she upset world #5 Kerber in a tight two-setter, at least outside a wobble late in the first set. From that passage of play, as well as her flirtation with surrendering a 5-0 lead to Bartoli, one still suspects Makarova when the pressure rises. Pressure has not entered Sharapova’s vocabulary at this tournament, where she continues to set records of implausible domination. Never before has anyone lost just five games en route to the Australian Open quarterfinals, which raises the question of how she will respond when and if some adversity does arise. In a battle between two women who love to create outrageous angles, Sharapova will hope to make Makarova rue her professed eagerness to reverse last year’s disappointment.
Djokovic vs. Berdych: Winless against the Serb on a hard court, Berdych notched his only victory over him en route to the Wimbledon final three years ago, his best result at a major to date. Once Djokovic evolved into his invincible self when 2011 began, the Czech never came close to repeating that feat. Part of this lopsided rivalry has hinged on the contrast between Berdych’s forehand-reliant game and the world #1’s groundstroke symmetry, which offers him a far greater advantage in backhand-to-backhand exchanges than any edge that his opponent can claim in forehands. Also, Djokovic’s movement allows him to track down the first strikes that Berdych can hurl at him more effectively than can most players, returning them with the depth necessary to maneuver himself into the rally.
On this occasion, though, Berdych may harbor some legitimate reason to hope. The cathartic but exhausting epic with Wawrinka, which sprawled across five hours, may have left him drained of the energy to grind down the Czech’s offense as he has in the past. By contrast, his challenger has reached this stage without dropping a set or engaging in any physically taxing battles. If Berdych claims an early lead, he could test Djokovic’s resilience. All the same, the world #1 proved his nearly supernatural ability to rebound from one marathon to the next in Melbourne last year when he spent nearly 11 total hours on court in consecutive matches against Nadal and Murray. Berdych should not gamble on a depleted Djokovic entering the court at his best major.
Featured in the Rod Laver Arena night session was world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who put her undefeated 2013 record on the line against former #1 Ana Ivanovic. Their match offered a contrast in styles between the first-strike power of the Serb and the versatility of the Pole, who recorded her fifth straight victory in their rivalry with a generally convincing 6-2 6-4 success.
As expected, Ivanovic looked tentative in the first game on her serve. She looked uncertain both at the net and the baseline, although she did win an entertaining all-court rally to save a break point before consecutive netted forehands surrendered the opening break. Holding at love with a backhand down the line, Radwanska kept the early pressure on her opponent, who responded with a love hold highlighted by some fine net play and her own backhand winner.
The latter seemed an encouraging sign for Ana, who normally produces unremarkable tennis from that wing. Two break points came and went in the next game, created by Radwanska backhand errors and saved by Ivanovic forehand errors on relatively routine balls. Four games deep, the match had not quite found its rhythm.
Nor did Ivanovic ever find her rhythm for more than a few points at a time in that set. While she held easily for a second straight time to reach 2-3, Radwanska swept the next three games with clean, consistent tennis designed to exploit the errors leaking from across the net in increasing quantities. Well-placed first serves extricated her from a tight service game, and she broke Ivanovic when the latter committed an egregious double fault that stemmed in part from her decision to chase wayward ball tosses on both first and second serves. Serving out the set without trouble, Radwanska continued to capitalize on Ivanovic’s forehand. Normally her greatest weapon, that shot misfired on point after point, including several dismal misses into the middle of the net.
A forehand sprayed into the doubles alley allowed the fourth seed to start the next set with a service break, which she consolidated as the trajectory of the match stayed firmly on course. Ivanovic did hold serve in the next game with forehands that finally did find their targets. Approaching the net successfully, she did what she had struggled to do for most of the first set in taking time away from Radwanska. That miniature momentum shift trickled into the next game, when she earned three more break points.
Determined not to allow her talented opponent a flicker of hope, Radwanska snuffed out each of the break points with confidence. Yet Ivanovic did not let her off the hook too easily, creating two more break points. Remarkably, the Pole outserved the Serb despite the conventional wisdom that she would find herself at a disadvantage in that department. She saved the last two break points with poise and held her last two service games at love, clinching the match with consecutive aces.
While Ivanovic raised her level distinctly in the second set after the weak start, she could not find the consistency to challenge the fourth seed as too many errors spilled from her forehand in particular. The Serb also failed to match Radwanska in the mental area of the game, losing the majority of the extended rallies as the Pole predictably outmaneuvered and out-thought her. Still, she reached the second week for the fifth time in the last six majors, which will further her campaign to rejoin the top 10.
For Radwanska, meanwhile, the victory extended a 13-match winning streak to start the season during which she has not dropped a set. She next will face Li Na in a quarterfinal that repeats their meeting in Sydney last week, won by Radwanska in Li’s only loss of the year so far.
At the start of the second week, all of the singles matches shift to the three show courts. We organize our daily preview a bit differently as a result, following the order of play for each stadium. From here to the end of the 2013 Australian Open, you can find a preview of every singles match in Wizards of Oz.
Rod Laver Arena:
Kerber vs. Makarova: When two left-handed women last met on Rod Laver, the match unwound deep into a final set. Viewers can expect less drama but higher quality from a meeting between the world #5 and a Russian seeking her second straight quarterfinal here. In this round last year, Makarova recorded probably the best win of her career in upsetting Serena, and she rekindled some of those memories with a three-set upset of Bartoli. Advancing through the draw more routinely, Kerber reached the second week here for the first time and will look to exploit the ebbs and flows in her opponent’s more volatile game. Makarova will aim to take time away from the German counterpuncher, in part by opening the court with wide serves behind which she can step inside the baseline. In a close match, Kerber’s outstanding three-set record and her opponent’s relative frailty under pressure could prove decisive. The German won all three of their 2012 meetings in straight sets.
Ferrer vs. Nishikori: Despite his clear superiority in ranking and overall accomplishments, the fourth seed might feel a bit anxious heading into this match. Nishikori has won two of their three previous matches, both at significant tournaments. More notable than his victory over Ferrer at the Olympics was a five-set thriller that he won from at the US Open, which introduced the Japanese star to an international audience four years ago. Chronically beset by injuries, Nishikori overcame a knee problem early in his first match and has won nine straight sets. As he pursues his second straight quarterfinal here, like Makarova, he cannot afford to encounter any physical issues in a grinding encounter filled with protracted rallies and few outright winners. Ferrer wore down Baghdatis, a former nemesis here, in a routine third-round clash as his level rose with the competition, but now it rises again.
Sharapova vs. Flipkens: Perhaps benefiting from the guidance of retired compatriot Clijsters, Flipkens has reached the second week at a major for the first time. Still, she defeated nobody of greater significance than Zakopalova to reach that stage, and it is difficult to see any area of her game that can trouble the rampaging Russian. Following her two double bagels, Sharapova conceded just four games to Venus in a highly anticipated encounter that turned into a demonstration of just how crisply she has started the season. The Belgian’s best chance may lie in the hope that the world #2 enters this match a little complacent or satiated with her statement triumph, not likely from someone of her professionalism. Their only previous hard-court meeting, in Luxembourg ten years ago, bears no relevance to what might unfold here.
Ivanovic vs. Radwanska: Early in their careers, the Serbian former #1 hit through the Pole’s defenses with her serve-forehand combinations. As Ivanovic has grown more erratic with time, the balance of power has shifted towards Radwanska with three straight victories in 2009-10 before a retirement from the former in their most recent meeting. All of those matches have stayed very close, though, which can give the Serb as she realizes that she will have chances against a player who will not overpower her. Stalling in the fourth round of majors for most of the last few years, Ivanovic has suffered a long string of losses to top-four opponents. Currently undefeated in 2013 with two titles already, Radwanska has shown greater discipline and steadiness here (no surprise, really) than the flustered former #1, who has oscillated wildly in form. Expect the fourth seed to outlast and outwit Ivanovic in an entertaining battle.
Djokovic vs. Wawrinka: Not exactly known as a steely competitor, the Swiss #2 has acquired a reputation for folding at majors against elite opponents—not just Federer, but Djokovic and Murray has well. He has lost his last ten meetings against the defending champion, last winning in 2006, although three times since then he has won the opening set. Demolishing his first trio of victims without dropping serve, Djokovic has not shown any vulnerability that might offer Wawrinka a reason to believe. Granted, the latter has not lost a set here either, but a matchup with the world #1 in a night session on Rod Laver Arena seems like the type of environment calculated to bring out the worst from the Swiss and something near the best from the Serb. Parallel to Sharapova and Flipkens, one struggles to imagine any part of the underdog’s game that can threaten the favorite consistently.
Almagro vs. Tipsarevic: Never before have they met on a hard court, discounting an Abu Dhabi exhibition. To no surprise, the Spaniard defeated the Serb comfortably when they met at Roland Garros last year, the most favorable surface for the former and the least favorable for the latter. Almagro remains almost as lethal a threat on hard courts as on clay, producing a handful of fine results in Melbourne and New York behind an impressive serve and plenty of groundstroke first-strike power. Both men can strike winners down the line from either groundstroke wing, nor will either hesitate in attempting a bold shot at any moment. That factor, combined with their proximity to each other in the rankings, bodes well for a tightly contested match, as does their mixture of impressive and unimpressive results in the first week.
Li vs. Goerges: If Almagro and Tipsarevic never have met on a hard court, this pair of women never has collided at all. Whereas Li rolled through the first week without dropping a set, Goerges needed to claw through a long three-setter in her opener against Dushevina and salvage a third-round epic against Zheng after the Chinese served for the match. Despite the accumulated fatigue, that resilience under pressure might aid her in a match likely to feature several twists and turns between two streaky women. Under Henin’s former mentor, stern taskmaster Carlos Rodriguez, Li has hinted at improving her consistency from one tournament to the next. Starting the year with a title and a Sydney semifinal, she enters this match with an 11-1 record in 2013. On the other hand, Goerges has wobbled through a long span of the unpredictability typical of WTA Germans, leaving her stagnant until this week.
Margaret Court Arena:
Anderson vs. Berdych: The first South African to reach the second week of a major since Wayne Ferreira ten years ago, Anderson did it the hard way by winning the last two sets of a five-setter against Verdasco. Few players have started the year more impressively than he has, marching from a strong week at the Hopman Cup to the Sydney final and now a week in which he twice has won matches after losing the first set. But Anderson may find himself eyeing adversity again when he meets a man who won all four of their matches last year. The last two of those reached final sets, offering him some hope in this contest of crackling serves, ferocious forehands, and meager backhands, which should produce repeated holds and perhaps some tiebreaks. Berdych has dominated the opposition through three rounds with the relentless focus that he does not always show, although he has not faced anyone of a quality approaching the South African.
By Jesse Pentecost
There was a strange, capricious energy to Melbourne this morning. Yesterday’s cruel heat had hardly lost its serrated edge during the night – it was still 35C at 11pm when Petra Kvitova and Laura Robson really got down to hacking at each other in earnest – and it wasn’t until breakfast this morning that the blade was truly dulled. A fitful breeze arrived, ostensibly a cool southerly but really coming at you from everywhere, often with baleful intent.
The first thing I saw upon arriving at Melbourne Park was a sudden gust pluck up a courtside umbrella, leaving the others untouched, and launch it into the back of a nearby man’s head. As far as I could see he hadn’t done anything to offend any nearby deities: he was simply watching Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty hit up. (It could be that he wasn’t demonstrating sufficiently patriotic awe, or had been indulging in impure thoughts of Jason Stoltenberg.) It was a heavy umbrella, and he seemed disappointed that there was no one upon whom to focus his ire. The skyscrapers of downtown Melbourne loomed silent in the middle distance. The clouds tumbled in.
The real answer, I hazard, is that Gael Monfils last night finally ruptured the space-time continuum. (Long-time readers will know that this is my favorite continuum.) Even at the best of times reality struggles to stay with Monfils when he opens the throttle, but as he commenced that inspired sequence of aces to bring up match points and double faults to lose them, the threadbare fabric of the universe finally wore through. Nothing made sense anymore.
This is also my explanation for how I found myself sitting in Hisense Arena watching Agnieszka Radwańska. Certainly no rational decision led me there. As she commenced her warm-up the scoreboard still displayed Monfils’ winning score from last night. As ever Poland’s highest-ranked player set about comprehensively demonstrating the old adage that the person who hits the ball in last is the person who wins the point. Heather Watson, in a recalcitrant mood, was intent on disproving this well-understood rule, but to no avail. History will show that Radwańska’s approach worked better, assuming the goal was to win the match. She won the match.
I toddled out for a turn around the grounds. Serena Williams was launching balls at an improbably handsome young fellow whose identity I never ascertained. I tried but failed to quell the ungenerous thought that Williams, being tennis royalty, will only hit up with tennis players who look like models, if not models who play tennis. A large audience had assembled to watch this unfold. By the time I’d completed a circuit of the complex they’d relocated to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s court, otherwise known as Court 23. The Frenchman was fending off groundstrokes from Thanasi Kokkinakis, and inspiring slogans from Roger Rasheed. Nearby Milos Raonic was nodding his head to serving advice from Galo Blanco. Like I said, it was all a bit strange.
I re-entered Hisense, mainly because it was there, beating Ana Ivanović and Jelena Janković by mere seconds. Their match was probably the best thing I saw all day, conducted in fine spirits, although stray patches of Monfils Madness danced in the air. If you turned your head quickly, you could just about glimpse them, sparkling gaily. As she lead 5/2 30-0 in the first set, Ivanović was enmeshed in one, and lost fifteen consecutive points to trail 5/5 40-0. Then she won another handful of points to break, and eventually serve out the set. The second set was steadier, as the innate lethality of her forehand was matched by steadiness (and occasional virtuosity) on the other wing. Janković, on the other hand, only looked dangerous when she could launch a backhand up the line, which is a perilous shot to live by.
Out in the grounds the nationalist frenzy of the first two days had largely died away, mostly because the Australian players had all lost, although the start of the mixed doubles competition had inspired the flag-wavers to a resurgence of hope. Chris Guccione and Bojana Bousic saved four match points to push Anabel Medina Garrigues and Bruno Soares to a match tiebreak, before falling meekly. The flags fell limp, and the green and gold sombreros drooped in disappointment. Over on Court 6 the mood was morose, as two local doubles teams fell to superior European doubles exponents, including a reunited pairing of Sergiy Stakhovsky and Mikhail Youzhny.
A swelling roar issued from Margaret Court Arena as Julien Benneteau secured the early break from Janko Tipsarević, but I opted instead for Showcourt 3, which was due to host the fiercely anticipated dust-up between Nicolas Almagro and Jerzy Janowicz. Through a tight first set we learned that the Spaniard can more or less match the giant Pole on serve, even in the fitfully prankish breeze, and that what the Polish fans lack in vocal prowess and breadth of repertoire they make up for in devotion and volume. Sadly, it was noise that saw a number of them removed by the police, as they failed fully to heed an official warning to stop rattling the hoardings quite so enthusiastically. It would be wrong to point to this as the moment that Janowicz proved unable to stay with his more loftily-ranked opponent, since he was already trailing by two sets and break. Nonetheless, until that point Janowicz had played Almagro quite close. After that he spiraled away. At least by reaching the third round he has played to his seeding. Almagro will next face Tipsarević, who soon after sealed his second straight five-set win. Expect another long one.
There was nothing more to be done. I’d put it off for long enough. It was time to return to the scene of Monfils’ crime. Hisense Arena beckoned, which is a fairly difficult gesture for a large sports stadium to make. Perhaps I imagined it. It had been a long day. Within, Fernando Verdasco and Kevin Anderson were commencing their fifth set. As I took my seat, both enervated and anxious, I glanced to my left. For a moment, I thought perhaps I glimpsed sparkles, one last pocket of madness in the air. Then I looked at the court, and I knew that madness was precisely what I’d seen.
By Lauren Smyczek
Now that the Australian Open is in full force, it’s time to step back from the scorelines and enjoy the players’ on court fashions a bit, shall we?
Though tennis players are typically far more concerned with their job to win matches than with their outfits, the same won’t deny that it’s important to feel comfortable on court. Some of the top players even hand-pick their colors and styles with a team of experts, so let’s see what all the buzz is about at the start of the tennis season.
Maria Sharapova: The day dress is, to put it simply, underwhelming. The silhouette is a bit skimpy on top, and looks more like a slip than the finished product. The yellow (which looks a little green against the blue courts) and light gray combination is decidedly pretty.
However, Sharapova could have gone for a different hue more along the lines of her orange David Koma dress from the “Sugarpova” launch. That color would have stood its ground against the mighty azure blue of the Melbourne courts. (The Koma dress looked like an art deco mermaid goddess dress. Complete with fin-pleats on the hips. Stunning choice unlike this Nike dress.)
Caroline Wozniacki: The young Dane continues her experimenting with Stella McCartney by adidas and she’s getting really close. From the tragic early days of McCartney’s tennis design, things are finally headed in the right direction. Though as a fashion aficionado, I have to admit that Stella McCartney is one of my favorite designers but her tennis/athletic line never quite resembled her ready-to-wear line. If it did, merchandise would be flying off the rack from popularity. If only McCartney herself were more involved with the tennis line design process … sigh.
This dress though is pretty, if maybe a little understated. The color sits nicely, but timidly, next to the blue courts. The pleats on the back are just the right touch though. And it’s good to see Wozniacki has gotten away from the likes of her 2010 look.
Serena Williams: In charge as always, Serena’s purple and orange ensemble is strong — as in athletically strong. But the color combo is lacking pop and freshness. Serena looks lethal and beautiful no matter what she wears, but she practically blends right into the backdrop in the photo below. It’s like playing the female version of “Where’s Waldo?”
But be not dismayed, the orange shoes ensure us we won’t miss her, and they just might be stealing the show here.
Venus Williams: Venus never disappoints with the extravagance of her on court clothing choices, and this outfit from her own Eleven line is mature. Her hair though is what really caught my attention, with the streaks perfectly matching the watercolor design of her dress.
Overall, however, the ensemble is lacking the energy of what you expect from a brand new 2013 season that the Australian Open offers, and it looks more like an off-court summer dress. But this is definitely a grown-up Venus and that’s refreshing. And her necklace is really lovely. She has a lot of poise and grace out there, and the ensembles are living up to that.
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Polish beauty went for a fairly strong color, but the silhouette proved to be quite boring. She is fresh-faced, has a flawless figure, and could probably pull of just about anything. How about some risk-taking once in a while, Lotto?
Ana Ivanovic: Just stunning. But she would look good wearing a brown sack. The yellow and light gray combination isn’t that interesting though, and as you can see, too many players are wearing lemon yellow. I wish she had chosen a color that played with the color of the courts more rather than outright fighting the blue. She epitomizes the balance between ultra-feminine and incredibly athletic. Yet I wish adidas would put her in something by Stella McCartney.
While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully. We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.
Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea. Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test. But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.
Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA): Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots. In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena. Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly. The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.
Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA): This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic. A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career. That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final. She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.
Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena): Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day. Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others. The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.
Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense): The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little. Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska. Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.
Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena): For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4. Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope. The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.
Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA): Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career. Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden. Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.
Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA): After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents. She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.
Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3): The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic. Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years. The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.
Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8): From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology. He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight. Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.
Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8): The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker. The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.
Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11): Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process). The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match. Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.
Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13): At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce. A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced. The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week. The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.
Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19): Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans. She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years. Is she ready for her comeback? Perhaps more to the point, are we?
Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20): From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative. Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament. His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland. Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.
Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22): Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines. Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level. Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.
Excited about these matches and others on Day 1? Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.
After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.
First quarter: Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament. Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister. Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack. The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw. While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.
Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki. The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings. Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round. Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova. The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw. She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.
Player to watch: Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova
Second quarter: In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena. Case closed, or is it? Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom. An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback. Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses. Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents. Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.
By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition. Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically. But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round. Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open. An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake. There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her. Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.
Player to watch: Stephens
Third quarter: The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way. Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open. Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole. Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year. The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure. Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney. For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.
Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur: the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic. Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since. The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic. Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined. The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne. Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.
Player to watch: Li
Fourth quarter: When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final. In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style. Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point. Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career. Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final. Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.
Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney. A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve. Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round. A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis. The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne. While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.
Player to watch: Venus
Final: Serena vs. Radwanska
Champion: Serena Williams
Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open? I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com. Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.
By Maud Watson
Pair of Threes
Brisbane was the first stop of the Aussie summer hard court season, and it was also a very lucrative location for the third-ranked players of the WTA and ATP. Serena Williams continued her dominance from 2012 by sailing to the Brisbane title. Even while acknowledging that Serena benefited from a draw that fell apart between the number of withdrawals and early upsets, it’s still a very promising sign for her that she was the last woman standing. She’s already stated her goal is to win the Grand Slam, and based on what we saw in Brisbane in comparison to the competition, she’s in with a solid chance. Andy Murray was slightly more tested in his run to the title, but like the American, he fought his way into the winner’s circle where he gave a very emotional victory speech dedicated to his “sick friend” (later revealed to be fellow British pro Ross Hutchins). The win was also important for the Scot in that he successfully defended his 2012 Brisbane title and looks perfectly poised and confident as he heads into Melbourne as a Grand Slam champion for the first time in his professional career.
Off And Running
Last week saw four other Top Ten players get their seasons off to the best start possible with title runs. The most consistent of the four was Radwanska. The Pole opted to stay away from the big guns in Brisbane and compete in Auckland, which paid off handsomely with her picking up the 11th singles title of her career. Equally, and surprisingly impressive, was Li Na. She was one of the bigger underachievers and disappointments of the WTA last season, so for her to not only start off with a win, but to do so under the pressure of playing in her home nation bodes well for her 2013 chances. On the men’s side, it was second time lucky for Tipsarevic. The Serb narrowly lost to Raonic in Chennai last year, so he was undoubtedly most pleased that he was able to seal the deal at the second time of asking. Finally, Frenchman Gasquet took the title in Doha against a resurgent Davydenko. A tournament title run to kick off his 2013 hopefully means he’ll be in the right frame of mind to finally start delivering on his boatload of talent and go deep in Melbourne.
Bad to Worse
John Isner’s run of bad luck has continued with the American being forced to withdraw from the Aussie Open due to bone bruising on his right knee. Isner previously withdrew from the Hopman Cup with what he thought was knee tendinitis. He also attempted to play Sydney but lost his opening match to compatriot Ryan Harrison. Isner then revealed he was suffering from bone bruising of his right knee, and after consulting with doctors, came to the appropriate conclusion that he’d be best to skip the 2013 Aussie Open so as to avoid a more serious injury. It’s disappointing to both Isner and American tennis, but with any luck, he’ll recover quickly and return in better form.
Every draw has at least one. Typically the term is applied to an established player still relatively in his or her prime that’s coming back from a semi-lengthy layoff, hence the low ranking. It may apply to a talented up-and-comer who’s on the way to breaking through to the upper echelons of the game. Or it may simply refer to that handful of players that just missed the cutoff for being seeded. It doesn’t frequently apply to a veteran player that is past his or her prime, especially if that veteran has battled a litany of injuries and surgeries. But despite all of that, Lleyton Hewitt is building a case to be labeled a dangerous floater after his performance at Kooyong. The Aussie bowed out in the Brisbane Round of 16 to Istomin in a tight two-setter before heading to the exhibition event where he has defeated No. 15 Raonic and No. 6 Berdych. Hewitt has drawn confidence from the wins and stated that after hitting with Federer, he feels like he can hit with anyone. Between his current form, competitive drive, and the home crowd support he should enjoy, Hewitt looks to be a tough out for most anyone in the field in Melbourne.
We always hear the phrase, “it’s just a game,” yet it can be so easy to lose sight of that. For professional tennis players, that “game” is their livelihood. It’s their goal to be the best and collect the most prestigious hardware the sport has to offer. The fans become absorbed with the highs and lows of their favorite players, hanging on with each swing of that player’s racquet. Yet, inevitably, something always comes along that reminds us once again that “it’s just a game.” Tennis received that reminder in the opening week of the 2013 season when Ross Hutchins revealed that he’d recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would be taking some time away from the game. Despite being shocked by the news, Hutchins sounded both positive and confident that he would overcome this devastating challenge. The Brit looks forward to returning the ATP and “full steam ahead” with his career. His remarks and attitude should serve as an inspiration to everyone. Here’s to hoping he experiences a complete and speedy recovery and that he always be a reminder that tennis is, after all, just a game.