by Maud Watson
Have your ear plugs handy, folks, because this year’s Australian Open women’s final is going to be a loud one as Azarenka takes on Sharapova. While the noise level of this match is going to be a turn off for many fans, we have to give credit where credit is due. Sharapova dug deep when it counted, weathering the barrage of Kvitova’s strokes to allow her Czech opponent to self-destruct. It was evident that Sharapova’s greater experience in major semifinals paid off, and it’s been an excellent effort by her to reach the final. The more impressive performance, however, has to be that of Azarenka. She’s grown in leaps and bounds, managing her emotions even when her game and nerve nearly failed her. She overcame the reigning champion and heavy crowd favorite in Kim Clijsters to reach her first major final, and it may just prove another crucial piece in her maturity as a player that will allow her to give Sharapova a good fight come Saturday. Much more than just a major title will be on the table for both women. For Azarenka, it represents a chance to break through at a slam. For Sharapova, it would be her first major since shoulder surgery, making it a title she probably wants and would appreciate more than her previous three. And of course, whoever wins in Melbourne will be the new No. 1 come Monday. Sit back, because this could be interesting.
At the time of writing, we know of one men’s finalist, and not surprisingly, it’s Rafael Nadal. Despite his comments to the contrary, it’s doubtful many were surprised when he emerged victorious over his Swiss rival. Coming off a tough four-setter against Berdych, the Spaniard looked no worse for wear as he scampered around the court making incredible get after incredible get. Falling completely apart after blowing an early break in the second, Federer did well just to right the ship near the start of the third to avoid getting completely steamrolled as Nadal’s relentless defense coupled with brilliant offense took its toll. Eventually it proved too much for the Swiss No. 1 as Nadal pressed him into making one too many unforced errors to lose the match in four. When it was all said and done, two things were very evident. First being that injuries or not, Nadal appears to be playing and moving just fine and is going to be difficult to beat for the foreseeable future. Second, while this was one of the better matches Federer has played against Nadal on a Grand Slam stage, he’s either going to need a great psychiatrist or get someone else to knock Nadal out of his path if he wants to win another major. The belief just doesn’t seem to be there.
Serena Williams was given a loud wake-up call when she was bounced out of the Australian Open by the unheralded Ekaterina Makarova. Give Makarova credit. She played a great match not only in her consistency, but also in her ability to hit down the line and short cross court angles. But it was also evident that Serena still needs to get in better shape, even allowing for her injury. She also needs to develop a Game Plan B for when A isn’t working. But perhaps most importantly, she can no longer bank on her reputation for freebies. In her prime, against most players, there was this feeling that no matter what the score, what the tournament, Serena would find a way to win. She knew it. Her opponent knew it. The fans knew it. But those days are long over. It takes work to maintain that kind of an aura, so she’d better ditch the attitude of “I’m not that desperate to have to play Acapulco,” or “I considered Indian Wells for like, a nanosecond” (her hiatus from Indian Wells is a topic for another time). Jon Wertheim, among others, phrased it perfectly when he stated that she can no longer afford to treat tennis as a part-time gig. She must sort out her priorities, and if tennis isn’t one of them, that’s fine. But if that’s the case, Serena can retire to save herself from further embarrassment and quit wasting everyone’s time, because we’ve reached a stage where Serena needs tennis more than tennis needs her.
That’s the word that comes to mind when reading the latest on the WTA investigation into the whole “grunting” issue. One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming this problem is mislabeling it. Grunting is not the issue. Shrieking is. It’s higher pitched, a bigger distraction, and a bigger annoyance. Then there’s the WTA’s faulty approach to the problem. They want to focus on fixing it at the junior level so as not to “adversely” affect those other players who have already developed their game under the current system. First, that hindrance rule has been around a long time, just that everybody is afraid to enforce it. And instead of worrying about adversely affecting the established shriekers, how about the WTA worry about those established quieter players? Don’t they deserve to play a match without negatively being affected by the loud screeching? So it’s time to cut the bull that shrieking is a natural part of these players’ games. They don’t do it in practice, and they don’t even do it consistently from match to match. If you need proof, just watch (or rather listen) to the difference in Sharapova’s decibel level in her tight tussle with Lisicki vs. her trouncing of Makarova. Start hitting these players where it hurts by assessing fines or point penalties for crossing a set decibel threshold. And if they can’t maximize their talents without the use of this tool that essentially amounts to cheating, then they don’t really deserve to be at the top to begin with.
In one of the more bizarre breaking news stories, Bernard Tomic was once again in trouble with the police. The young Australian resisted being pulled over, which resulted in the police showing up at his house. The nature of the two traffic tickets he was given is unknown, and Tomic has previously cited being unjustly persecuted by the police. Still, this doesn’t look good. He’s already had some colorful moments in his past, but recently it appeared that he was starting to get a good head on his shoulders and move in the right direction. Hopefully this is just going to turn out to be one more minor blip in his past instead of the start of a downward spiral. With all of his talent, it would be such a waste.