Week one of the Australian Open featured surprises, meltdowns (of both the vocal and mental kind) and perhaps the match of the decade. Here’s a look back at how the first week in Melbourne could impact the rest of the tennis season.
The Rise and Fall of U.S. Tennis
To borrow a line from Dickens, American tennis right now is having its best time and its worst time right now. The good news is that Serena Williams appears to have a plethora of young successors in Sloane Stephens, Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys and more who made a name for themselves down under. Serena isn’t ready to give up the crown just yet, but at least she’ll have someone waiting in the wings when she does.
The bad news is that U.S. men’s tennis, after the retirement of Andy Roddick, appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis as to who will be its next leader. Injuries to John Isner and Brian Baker, the ongoing TBD status of Mardy Fish and the still emerging if yet now stalled talent of Ryan Harrison point to a year where seeing an American man in the second week of a Major would be a miracle. Expect a lot of soul-searching and finger pointing during the upcoming indoor events in U.S. most of which won’t even be on the calendar this time next year.
How Long Is Too Long?
Melbourne has been burdened and blessed with two extremely long men’s matches that once again opened up the debate of if five set matches at the Majors are still necessary in this modern age of physical tennis. Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon literally grinded themselves into a pulp in their over four hour “push” fest that featured a 71-shot rally and “fingernails on a chalkboard” tennis as Darren Cahill described it with neither man able to hit outright winners. Simon may have won, but his subsequent trip to the hospital had many asking if winning this kind of grueling match was really worth it.
And then we had Novak Djokovic versus Stanislas Wawrinka – a contest that even at five hours long was filled with exciting, dramatic rallies from start to finish. It’s certainly likely to be the match of the year and served as an argument for the continuation of best of five when the quality remains top level.
Even so, it’s telling that so many replays of the match were abbreviated to include only the best passages from the evening. After all, except for those who watched it live on T.V. or in person, very few will have the time to sit down and watch it again in its entirety, or even want to in this short attention span world we live in. But that final match point will probably be one of the most watched sports moments on You Tube all year.
Whether you think he’s brilliant, a “punk”, or both, Bernard Tomic proved with his stellar start to the year and his extremely ego-filled press conferences, that he is the player to watch for 2013. He may not quite be as ready to break into the top 10 as he says he is, but Tomic is a much needed shock to the system for the men’s tour that was becoming a tad stale after several years of so many players saying “we’re not worthy” when it comes to challenging the game’s elite.
The real test for Tomic won’t be keeping himself out of trouble with the law, but instead replicating his success outside of Australia on the smaller stages of the tour that, as his vanquisher Roger Federer so aptly described it, runs for eleven months. Not two.
For several high profile players, their week off after having been dumped out of Melbourne may allow them time for some serious reflection. Juan Martin Del Potro is expected to rise even higher in 2013, but his slow start to the year suggests despite all of his prodigious talent, perhaps he doesn’t really want to be part of the “big four”. For Caroline Wozniacki, who was No. 1 last year, she may have found domestic bliss, but her presence on the WTA is now becoming near irrelevant especially at the Majors. If you asked her off the record if she’s ok with that, what would she really say?
The always elegant Venus Williams, who got blown out by Maria Sharapova, will now have to decide if, at age 32, she’s fine with the growing reality that she will likely never be a contender for a Grand Slam singles title again. And Sam Stosur, who admitted a complete mental collapse while blowing a 5-2 lead in the final set to Zheng Jie, will have to put that horrible loss out of her mind if she has any hope of doing well the rest of the year.
Finally on a slight fashion note, although yellow is a lovely color, seeing it adorn almost every player no matter who their clothing contract is with suggests the major brands have completely run out of ideas on their color palettes. Perhaps the all-white look as mandated by the All-England Club should become the norm at all the Majors just to save everyone from having to complain about next year’s “must-wear” color.
Enjoy the second week!