Tag Archives: Australian Open

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Serena Williams Chases the Past. The Present, Future Chase Her Back

Serena Williams is traveling in time, chasing the past. It’s all about history for her now. But that’s not new. What was new from the Australian Open was that the present and the future have decided to finally start chasing her. And that came with an assist from the past.

They’ve all decided to stop cowering in the corner in fear of Williams and start fighting her back.

I’ll get back to that in a minute. With her 19th major title Saturday, when she beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), Williams passed Chris Evert and Martina Navratlova on the all-time list. Steffi Graf is the next, and final, goal with 22. (No one seems to count Margaret Court).

Is Williams the greatest player of all time already? If you look at video of Evert, you see that she wasn’t even playing the same game that Williams is. The racquets are different, the strings are different. And the training and body types match the equipment. It’s like asking who’s better: a badminton player from the 1980s or a tennis player from the 2010s?

Still, I’m going with Williams as second best and Graf as No. 1. Graf won more majors (22-19), way more non-majors (85-46) and spent more than 65 percent longer at No. 1 (377 weeks to 226). Too much emphasis is put on today’s only measure, major titles, as the measuring stick through history. But in this case, the numbers hit me about right, with Graf ahead of Williams, but with time for Williams to catch up.

As Williams has gotten older, she has started thinking about her spot in history. She now talks openly about wanting to catch Graf. Williams is 33, and not as consistent in majors as she once was. But what came out of the Australian was this: While Williams is focused on Graf as her only challenger, the present has decided to join in.

Here’s what I mean: My biggest complaint about women’s tennis is that almost all the women play exactly the same game. Bash into open space. The end. No touch, no nuance, no style. It rarely works against Williams, with her great serve, strength, guts and athleticism, particularly when she cares, meaning the majors.

I’ve wondered for years why no one tries to slice the ball into Williams’ feet to see if she can get out of the way, rather than run something down. Or at least, why no one tries anything at all. ANYTHING! When plan A isn’t working, these women try Plan A. They don’t have a Plan B.

But we saw a much more gutsy approach in the semis from American teen Madison Keys — the future? —

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: No One Tells the Same Punchline 1,000 Times in a Row. You’ll Hear Tennis’ Classic Joke Again if Sharapova Wins

I’ll be honest and say I’m a little tired of the joke. It is actually a tennis classic, built into the fabric of the sport.

But every. . .single. . .time someone ends a long losing streak against another player, it’s the same line. Nobody beats Tomas Berdych 18 times in a row. That’s what we heard after he beat Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open this week. And when Andreas Seppi beat Roger Federer, ESPN ran the same joke on the scroll across the bottom of the screen.

Going into Saturday’s women’s final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, Williams has won the past 15 times in their rivalry. I’m just going to warn you now, in case Sharapova wins. The joke is coming again. For most tennis writers, it writes itself on the computer.

It was a Vitas Gerulaitis original, though it has been misreported so many times that the truth of the slump he ended is now confused in oral history. He did not beat Bjorn Borg to end the streak. He never beat Bjorn Borg, period. But in 1980 at the Masters Gerulaitis ended an 16-match losing streak by beating. . .

Jimmy Connors. And he came into the interview room carrying a bottle of champagne, according to reports from the time, and said it in his self-deprecating celebration: “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”

The funny thing is, it was the start of Gerulaitis’ five-match win streak against Connors.

And it appears that Gerulaitis was right. According to the official ATP record book, which is not perfect, his final record against Borg was 0-16.

And according to Matt Cronin’s book “Epic” about the Borg-John McEnroe rivalry, after Gerulaitis made the joke that lives in tennis history, someone asked him if he had broken into the Big Three of Borg, McEnroe and Connors. Gerulaitis said, “I’ve always had this potential, but there aren’t three. There are the rest of us. Then there’s Bjorn.”

More honesty: When I started writing this column, I planned on asking that we finally retire that joke. Then, I started looking up some stuff about Gerulaitis. I’m remembering, laughing. I remember

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Real Housewives of Tennis and the Welcome Tension of Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych

 

 

When Jimmy Connors didn’t approve of John McEnroe, he put his finger in Mac’s face and started jawing. When Andy Murray was unhappy with Tomas Berdych Thursday at the Australian Open, he tattled.

I’m having a hard time getting past that. Maybe it’s a British thing? Berdych made some remark to Murray as they walked past each other on a changeover after Berdych won the first set. And Murray, all 6-foot-3, 185 weight-lifted pounds of him sat down and, well, snitched. He complained to the chair umpire that Berdych talked to him.

Boo hoo. Let me put this bluntly: I am the official judge and jury on this. I’ll score the spat in a few minutes. But the bigger picture is the thrill you had to feel watching that match. I’ve watched it twice, once stopping every time they showed the players’ fiancees on ESPN to see if I could read Kim Sears’ lips. I’m pretty sure one time she said. “Oh for fun’s sake.” And “Take that, you fun-loving Czech funner.”

I don’t think funner is a word. Maybe a British thing? Surely it’s not a swear word, as Brits have made it clear to all Americans that they aren’t the ugly ones with bad manners. What would I know about it anyway, coming from the country of Milwaukee’s Tim Smyczek, who already locked up the tour’s good sportsmanship award for the year when he allowed Rafael Nadal to hit his first serve again after a fan yelled in a big moment.

Anyway, there was such an edge to the match Thursday that you had to keep paying attention. ESPN has been criticized for showing side-by-side photos of both fiancees and comparing engagement rings. Both rings were estimated over $300,000, Berdych spent more, the funner. I have no idea why ESPN was criticized for that.

Loosen up, tennis. It was fun. I guess that’s the message here. For someone like me, who loves the sport, I’m fine with it as it is. But I have to admit enjoying that added element — personal tension — Thursday. We rarely see it, except when Serena Williams plays Maria Sharapova, which will happen in Saturday’s final.

The general sports fan would be a whole lot more interested in tennis if the sport had just a hint of reality show to it.

Real Houswives of Tennis. And it was just a few months ago that Roger Federer’s wife, Mirka, was calling Stan Wawrinka a “crybaby”

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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: 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: Stan Wawrinka Breaks Through the Big 4, Beats Rafael Nadal. His Victory in the Process of Getting There

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Stan Wawrinka wins the Australian Open Sunday

The message of Stan Wawrinka and his incredible win at the Australian Open Sunday over Rafael Nadal, a few days after his incredible win over Novak Djokovic, has been twisted a little. Simplified. Confused.

The quote Wawrinka had tattooed on his arm, is not akin to “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’’ It’s bigger than that. Wawrinka’s tattoo, from Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, says this:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’’

That is not about continuing to try until you have success. It is about redefining success, finding it in the nobility of simply trying and trying no matter how many times you fail. It’s not about trying until you succeed, but rather about finding success in the effort.

It tennis terms, it was a way of keeping sanity in a world of Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. It is such a great example of a blue-collar mentality and a look into what it’s like to be a top tennis player dealing with the sport’s historically incredible Big Four.

“Before today, I always (was) saying that except Roger, Rafa, Novak, you always lose, especially every week,’’ Wawrinka said Sunday after beating Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to break up the Big Four’s stranglehold on major championships and win his first major. “So it’s not easy because tennis life, when you lose, it’s tough to get through and to take a positive from a loss, from failing from a tournament.

“That’s how I see, in general, my career.’’

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Wawrinka’s tattoo where he can always see it while playing

The Big Four had won 34 of the previous 35 majors, going back to 2005. The string was broken only by Juan Martin del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open win. But at the time, del Potro seemed a likely candidate to join the top group. If not for wrist injuries, maybe he would have. But he’s healthy now, and still can’t quite get back.

Wawrinka didn’t seem like the guy to break through. He was destined to be the guy Djokovic beat in a classic five sets at last year’s Australian Open, and then again at the U.S. Open.

He was The Other Guy in the picture of greatness. He was good enough to get into that picture, though, which maybe made it more frustrating. He found comfort in the Beckett quote, which he thought about for years, but didn’t have tattooed on his arm until last year.

Wawrinka said Sunday that he never believed he could win a major until after he had actually done it.

The success was in the courage it took him to keep getting up and fighting after crushing and inevitable losses to the greats. The Australian Open? That was just a bonus.

Wawrinka was 0-14 against Djokovic, 0-12 against Nadal. He’d never even taken a set off Nadal. Being from Switzerland, Wawrinka also spent his career in the shadow of his friend, Roger Federer.

Now, Wawrinka moves to No. 3 in the rankings, ahead of Murray and Federer.

But the beauty of Wawrinka’s story is in the process, the failing that led to this. We love to celebrate the blue collar guy in sports, connecting him to ourselves, and to a belief that it’s possible to break through the ceiling.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Li Na Wins Second Major, Leads Tennis Into New Frontier

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Li Na in the Australian Open final

Li Na comes off like a stand-up comic, though you’re never quite sure if she’s trying to be funny or if it just comes off that way accidentally with her blunt honesty. She speaks her mind.

But she stood on the court Saturday after winning the Australian Open and gave her joking/truths over the p.a., thanking her agent for making “me rich’’ and then her husband, Shan Jiang, for all he has done.

“Also,’’ she said to Shan, “you are so lucky (to) find me.’’

Tennis was so lucky to find her, and was lucky to still have her Saturday. The U.S. mainstream sports fan doesn’t even know who Li is, but she is women’s tennis’ greatest selling point. She might be the most important person in the women’s game, and is definitely the most important one not named Williams.

Li is the only Chinese player ever to win a major. Now she has won two, beating Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 just nine months after considering retirement rather than continuing to do endure heavy criticism from Chinese media over her falling results.

Her coach talked her into sticking around another month just to see how things went at last year’s Wimbledon. They went well, so she hung around for the U.S. Open. That’s how close tennis was to losing her.

I can’t wait to see what the TV ratings were for Saturday’s match. Think worldwide. Think hundreds of millions. Think: Super Bowl-like.

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When Li won the 2011 French Open, according to TV ratings, 116 million people watched in China. A week later, 106 million watched the Super Bowl in the U.S. I know it sounds as if a punchline is coming; there are a lot more people in China than in the U.S.

But with so many sports looking to find a way to crack China, seeing it as an under-tapped massive population with a strong economy, tennis has already been trying to ride Li’s success since 2011. It was trying before that, too, without much luck.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Reality check for Federer. Crushed by Nadal, but Oz was Great Start to Reinventing Self

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Reality is reality and facts are facts. But the reality and facts of Rafael Nadal’s easy win over Roger Federer Friday in the Australian Open semifinal are based solely on what you expected.

What I mean is this: If people expected Federer to beat Nadal, then they really haven’t been paying attention lately. He was never going to win this match. Cold reality is that Nadal is far better now than Federer.

But the fact is this: These past two weeks have been a massive success for the reality of Roger Federer.

Jack Nicklaus used to say that he never wanted to be a ceremonial golfer, that he was there to win. Without changes, Federer was going to be just for show by the end of this year. He might not have been in the top 20.

Instead, at 32, he has already not only taken the first steps, but also placed himself back in position to win majors again.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Federer Faces Facts, Makes Racquet Again. It’s About Time

imgres-1The first thing you noticed when Roger Federer played Andy Murray on Wednesday at the Australian Open was that his headband and wristband were bright red. So were his shoes. It took a minute to realize why that would stand out.

Here’s why: Roger Federer was playing in color again. For the past few years, he has been in black and white, playing an obsolete style with obsolete equipment, stubbornly in denial about what was going on around him.

It was sort of sad, really. He always had some excuse for his decline. I covered the match where it first should have been hammered into his head, a loss to Robin Soderling at the French Open. Federer blamed the weather for that one, as if Soderling were playing under a different sky.

That was 2010. But now Federer has finally faced facts.

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Serena loses to Ivanovic? Once-in-a-Lifetime Losses Adding up for Williams

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The truth about Serena Williams is that these inexplicable, once-in-a-lifetime, fluky, never-happen-again losses keep happening again. They’re starting to pile up.

Williams is still the best player in the world, but with her loss to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open, something changed. A week ago, the talk was that Williams was so much better than the rest of the tour that she might win all four majors this year. She might be the best ever.

Then, she lost to a woman, talented as she is, who has spent the past few years crying after every loss, too scared to toss the ball over her head for a serve.

When Williams lost to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon last year, I said it was the first time her mind and body let her down at the same time. Now, it has happened twice, albeit with a U.S. Open title in between.

There are real issues for Williams. She’s 32, and it’s starting to show. It was crafty after the match how news of her back pain accidentally – I should say, “accidentally’’ with air-quotes – leaked out. Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said something. Then, when faced with the question, she declined to let it take away from Ivanovic’ win, yet did manage to say her back was so bad she almost didn’t even play.

That’s not much of an excuse anymore. A body starting to become unreliable, to break down, doesn’t seem like a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a 32-year old who lost in the Australian Open last year because of another injury.

What we’re starting to see is this: Williams isn’t able to physically dominate and intimidate everyone the way she used to. And when she isn’t able to do that, she doesn’t seem to know what to do.

As the injuries add up, and she starts to run slower, that will become more problematic. More and more, the bullying thing is going to start to fade.

Maybe we saw signs of that two years ago in the U.S. Open final against Sam Stosur, too. I just didn’t recognize it at the time because it was so stunning seeing any weakness in her. Remember when Williams sat there during a changeover berating the chair ump like a little kid getting worked up, nearly crying while saying, “You’re a hater. You’re unattractive inside.’’

Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic

Stosur has been known to fold mentally, but she’s an incredibly muscular athlete who stood up to Williams physically that day. And Williams crumbled. At Wimbledon, Lisicki, known for her power and inconsistency, pounded on Williams.

But those seemed like flukes. Great athletes putting it together one time.

On Saturday? Well, put it this way: The first three times I talked with Ivanovic, a few years ago, she was crying after losses. Yet somehow, a woman who hadn’t shown one bit of mental fortitude in years, walked out on a court believing in her heart that she could beat Williams. And she could do it by overpowering her.

That’s a big deal. Roger Federer is running into it now, too. More often than not, when tennis’ dominant players take the court, the match is already over. The person on the other side of the net just doesn’t believe enough to do it. Now, opponents believe they can beat Federer, and some of them are doing it.

To be honest, going into the Australian Open, I thought the only player who believed she could beat Williams was Victoria Azarenka. Continue reading