Category Archives: Australian Open

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Rafael Nadal not just Rusty. Body Broken

It takes a recklessness to be Nadal. It’s not only about running with abandon, but also about throwing everything you have with every single body part into every single motion. It is to push limits, to create energy and adrenaline so powerful that even people watching can feel it. To be Nadal is not to float gracefully like Roger Federer, but to storm the court like no one before.

And all of that is to point out one thing: The guy who lost to Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) Tuesday in the Australian Open quarterfinals? That wasn’t Nadal.

Rafael Nadal warned us. He said he wasn’t ready to win this tournament, that he was rusty from his time away because of injuries. He said Tuesday that reaching the quarters was a good step. But are we supposed to believe his words — and, those of ESPN’s analysts who think he just needs practice — or our own eyes? Because what I saw was this:

Nadal’s body is broken. It’s amazing he lasted this long, to 28. How long would your car last going pedal to the metal all the time?

 

“I am feeling OK,” he told reporters. “Just was not my day. I didn’t play with the right intensity, with the right rhythm. And the opponent played better than me.”

But you were rubbing your hamstrings. And you took some sort of medicine during the third set.

“Yeah, happened nothing,” he said. “I am feeling well. That’s it.”

Truth: Nadal hates it that people think he blames injury for losses. More truth: Injury was the reason for this loss.

Well, actually I don’t think it was injury, though that’s how Darren Cahill portrayed it. Maybe he’s right. I hope he’s right. But I suspect this is just Nadal’s normal state now. He has put his body through torture for so long.

But the problem against Berdych wasn’t rust or timing. Nadal can’t change directions on a dime — as

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Venus Williams Getting Her Farewell Run? No Way (I Think)

The tennis gods like to give aging superstars one last good-bye run. Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras. It’s a graceful way out. And it’s something about luck mixed with wringing out the last drops of greatness mixed with making adjustments to account for what has been lost.

Everything sort of comes together at the same time. And that brings me to Venus Williams, who is suddenly relevant again, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open after beating sixth seed Agnieszka Radwanska Monday 6-3, 2-6, 6-1. Williams was excellent, awful, excellent. In that order.

But here’s the thing: I’m not sure this is a one-last-run thing. Someone forgot to tell Venus this is her farewell tour. That’s what I was thinking it was.

Now I’m thinking it’s her comeback tour. But know this: I could be way off. It’s too close to tell.

“For me, it’s all about the title,” Williams, who’s 34, told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez, who had asked about her feelings of getting deep into a major again. “It’s not about a good showing anymore. I’m past that time.”

Venus, who hasn’t been this deep in a major since 2010, doesn’t understand the nostalgia.

It’s just hard to know exactly what we’re seeing. It might be luck: The first top player she faced in Australia is Radwanska, one of the few high-ranked players Williams can overpower.

And maybe her body is just in a good cycle now with her Sjogren’s syndrome, which steals her energy. Her fight against that is permanent.

Or she might have found the right diet and medication. Or, she could take the court against Madison

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Twirlgate Just for Show? Calling BS on Billie Jean King’s Sexism Claim

 

Maria Sharapova has talked about her passion for fashion, and how she enjoys helping with the designs of the tennis dresses she wears, including the little black tennis dress. Last year, Glamour magazine called her clothes “saucy.” A few years ago, Forbes said she likes “tank dresses with kicky skirts.”

Who can argue with that? And who can forget Serena Williams’ catsuit? I was at the Australian Open a few years ago when Venus Williams explained that she had designed skin-toned underwear for a natural look.

Awkward? You bet. But on Wednesday, Eugenie Bouchard won her match at the Australian Open, and when she did her post-match interview on court for the crowd, she was asked to give “a twirl” to show off her dress.

It is now a fullfledged scandal, with Billie Jean King posting on Twitter that the request to twirl was “out of line. This is truly sexist. If you ask the women, you have to ask the men to twirl as well.”

Go ahead. Ask Roger Federer to twirl. Ask Rafael Nadal. Ask Andy Murray. You know what? They won’t do it.

Bouchard, and earlier Serena Williams, did because it’s part of women’s tennis.

And God bless King for all she’s done to set a path for girls, including my daughter, with Title IX and the women’s tour. But on this one, I’m calling BS. She’s coming off like Al Sharpton, looking for any opportunity — genuine or not — to push the cause.

Look, it was an uncomfortable request, yes. It’s an unfamiliar balance, too, that the tour is selling. Bouchard, 20, is one of the best tennis players in the world. But the truth is, if this is a serious issue of sexism, then it’s not about what some guy asked Bouchard to do to show off her dress.

If there is need to change, then the women’s tour needs to take a hard look at what the women’s tour is selling.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Roger Federer Falls Flat. Age Doesn’t Have to Look Like This (Yet)

Federer loses to Seppi at Australian Open

Forgive Roger Federer for getting old. It happens, and at this point he can still deal with it. But does that mean he has to be scared and stupid, too?

Federer lost to Andreas Seppi 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) Friday in the third round of the Australian Open. It was bad enough that he said his body didn’t feel right and he didn’t know why. Then, he moved around as if his shoes weighed 25 pounds. The truth is, he didn’t move right in the second round, either.

Whatever. He’s 33 and there will be days like this now.

But when Andre Agassi got old and his legs wouldn’t straighten and he’d stumble over the paint on the baseline, he actually moved in even tighter to the baseline and cut off all angles to reduce running.

He dealt with it and figured out how to win a little longer. Federer? He panicked. Before Friday, he had been getting used to a new, modern racquet and developed a more aggressive style with Coach Stefan Edberg.

Well, what happened to that guy?

“It was just an overall feeling I had today that I couldn’t really get the whole game flowing. . .” he told reporters. “I think that was because overall I wasn’t feeling it quite as well. I had to play it a little bit passively at times when normally I would play aggressive.”

John McEnroe and Chris Evert were both on ESPN talking about what happens when a great player starts to get old: You have inexplicably bad days when your body just won’t do what it’s supposed to. They were having flashbacks in Federer’s match.

But they were remembering an advanced stage of tennis aging. Federer

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Tennis has Smyczek’s Moment of Sportsmanship, NFL has Deflategate. Which One Do We Really Respect?

Tim Smyczek

Four hours into the fight Wednesday, Tim Smyczek, Packers fan from Milwaukee, was sticking with Rafael Nadal, greatest player of all time, at the Australian Open. It was one of those moments when you reach heights that. . .”He was sick and not playing well,” Smyczek said, trying to ruin the story.

Whatever. Nadal led 6-5, 30-love, fifth set. He tossed to serve and someone in the crowd screamed. It distracted him and he missed wildly. And then what? Here’s what: Smyczek secretly took the ball, stuffed it in his pocket, reached down and popped a hole in the seam with his fingernail. The ball turned to mush, which meant that it wouldn’t bounce much, negating Nadal’s wicked topspin.

Smygate! The American way! No wait. That’s not what happened. Smyczek didn’t Belichick the ball at all. What really happened was this: He told the chair umpire to let Nadal hit his first serve again. A do-over was not required under the rules. Nadal then served again and won the point. A few minutes later, Nadal won 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 7-5.

Sportmanship lives. Smyczek did it at risk to his career moment. It was the right thing, wasn’t it? Because it stands in such stark contrast to the big story in sports today: the New England Patriots deflating 11 of the 12 footballs used in the AFC title game, theoretically to fit better into the small hands of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“What he did at the end of the fifth was just amazing,” Nadal said afterward, talking about Smyczek, not New England coach Bill Belichick. “Very few players can do that after four hours. . .He’s a great example, what he did today.”

This is about who we are and whether what we respect and believe in

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: The Myth of Sloane and ESPN’s Role in It

 

 

Sloane Stephens’ arrival was always a myth. That’s the cold truth. American tennis is so desperate for something to hold on to that Stephens was promoted from prospect to arrival to star even though none of that ever really happened.

That’s not her fault, though she seems to have believed in the Myth of Sloane And now, it’s too late to go back to being a prodigy.

She lost to Victoria Azarenka for the third year in a row at the Australian Open. This time, it was 6-3, 6-2 in the first round. And while people are openly wondering what went wrong with Stephens, I can tell you this:

Nothing went wrong. She has not gone backward. She is the same player she always was. She is just standing still, unable to climb the last step to the top that her current critics/former supporters pretended as if she had climbed two years ago. Why did they pretend? It was a sales pitch meant to help them, not to reflect on Stephens.

She is not a young quarterback who won the Super Bowl, but never went back. She didn’t win 20 games as a rookie Major League pitcher and then fizzle out. She has never won a tournament. Not a major, not a minor.

Never.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

images-4

Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

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