Many people are of critical of Bruce McAvaney for his idiosyncrasies in commentary, but I like him as the host next to Jim Courrier. At the conclusion of the greatest match of all time – or possibly just the greatest match that we have seen in recent memory – Bruce, got it spot on: “There is nothing I can say that can do justice to what we have just seen.”
Whilst it might be odd to reference a commentator when we have just seen the most unbelievable tennis match, even the morning after that statement is true. Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in five glorious sets of power, passion, skill, stress and entertainment, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(7-5), 7-5. The match ended at 1.37am after 5 hours and 53 minutes, the longest match for a final in Grand Slam history and longest match ever at the Australian Open. Whilst the players were slow between points, often taking over the normal allotted time of 30 seconds, we were compensated when the ball was in play.
The number of rallies with more than 20 shots seemed to grow as the match progressed. The ability of both players to continue to get to balls and make their opponent play an extra shot was phenomenal. Late in the 5th set, after an epic 31 shot rally Djokovic collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. It seemed like it could be the end of him, but somehow he found a way.
Earlier Nadal had led then trailed then fought back from the brink 0-40 and being broken, thus allowing Djokovic to serve for the match. Again Nadal, certainly the most tenacious player on tour, found something that saw him hold to level the set at 4-4 and then took the set in a tiebreak to force a 5th set.
The superlatives available are often not enough to describe the match. Rafa was asked in his post match press conference if he would watch the replay. “Just the highlights” her replied as the match was a incredibly long. Even with the highlight reel you could be there for a while. If this rivalry has superseded the Federer/Nadal rivalry of the past decade then bring on the rest of 2012 and more Nadal /Djokovic classics.
If the semi-finals were exciting matches that went the distance and flowed the final was anything but. In another embarrassment for the woman’s game, the final was comprehensively won by Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-0 over Maria Sharapova.
Embarrassing might be a little harsh but the score line reflected that of some of the earlier round matches that we so often see in the tournament. Certainly we expect more when the two top four in the world players go head to head for a Grand Slam final. How Sharapova cannot win a game in the second set – a set she had to win to stay in the match – beggars belief.
A basic ladies final ticket is comfortable over $200. In barely two hours that is a high price to pay. What is more alarming is Sharapova’s performance in the Australian Open final when beaten. Twice now she has won just three games in being the runner up at Melbourne Park, 2007 she lost 6-2, 6-1 to Serena Williams.
Azarenka on the other hand can only continue to develop and get better. If 2011 was the arrival of Petra Kvitova the 2012 could be the Azarenka show. She has the determination, game and good humour about her to continue to be successful, particularly at the majors, and particularly when you get helpful opponents at the other end who give up sets like Sharapova did last night.
Wow – what a match. Andy Murray said after the match he thought he has closed the gap on the top three. Unfortunately for him the gap still remains ever so slightly. Novak Djokovic triumphed in five sets in a little under five hours and will defend his title on Sunday. The re-match of last year’s final was significantly better than that match.
This match had huge momentum swings, none more so than in the final set when trailing 5-2, Murray managed to come back to level up the match. At that stage it seemed the Scot would avenge his loss from last year and try for a third time to win on the last Sunday of the tournament in Melbourne. It wasn’t to be. Djokovic found another gear and has made it to the last three major finals. If he wins on Sunday he will join an elite group – Federer, Sampras and Nadal – to have won three in a row in the modern era.
It was the final that most people wanted but when the draw was released it was definitely the most anticipated match of the tournament. Nadal versus Federer is one of the great modern sporting rivalries. The match had moments of brilliance, most of which came from the Nadal racket as he summoned passing shots both down the line and cross court at Federer’s feet that had to be seen to be believed.
For a reason that will probably not be disclosed to us until Federer writes his memoirs al la Andre Agassi, he seems to struggle mentally against Rafael Nadal. Perhaps having Roger on the other side of the net brings the best out of Nadal. Alas for the viewing audience the match was over in four sets and we were left to ponder whether Rog will ever beat Raf again?
The peculiarity of tennis is that all the majors have different schedules to each other. At Wimbledon the tournament rests on the middle Sunday. At the French Open they commence on a Sunday. At the US Open, there are Men’s semi finals the same day as the ladies final. At the Australian Open the women are generally scheduled more to play in the day and at least one set of quarter finalists are required to back up the next day for their semi final.
So whilst we waited for the dream semi final of the night time between Rafa and Roger, we had two high quality ladies semi finals in the afternoon sun. As expected both semi finals went to three sets. Victoria Azarenka proved to be one tournament favourite too far for sentimental favourite Kim Clijsters. The Belorussian winning through to her first grand slam final.
Maria Sharapova will make it a double screaming act for the final as she managed to get past world number two Petra Kvitova. The winner of the final, to also be crowned the new woman’s world number one. As I have all tournament I lean to the lady who has not lost a match for 3 weeks, Victoria Azarenka to win her first major title.
Wandering around Melbourne Park on Thursday morning there is still plenty to see. With the juniors and wheelchair open’s still taking place on all the outside court. Anyone that marvels at the athleticism of the players at the top of the game should have a look at a set or two of the wheelchair tennis players. The points are just as long, the shots just as crafty and the skill it of a brilliant quality as well.
On the outside courts I also came across the National Club Championships which takes the best tennis clubs from each state up against each other. In team tennis format of 6 abbreviated matches per team a series of finals were played before a modest but passionate crowd. This team tennis is exciting and has potential to grown and possibly be picked up by a cable TV channel if the right money and sponsorship could be arranged. Kooyong Tennis Club – the former home of the Australian Open – won the final and the prestige of being considered the number one club in Australia.
Maria Sharapova is many people’s tip to win this year’s Australian Open. A friend backed her at some juicy odds before the tournament and is licking his lips at the prospect of his collect on Saturday. She will however face arguably the tour’s best player of the past 12 months Petra Kvitova in a semi final today in a quirk of the draw that see one half of the woman’s draw play two days in a row.
Many fans of Sharapova would rejoice in her triumph if she can win two more matches. It’s been and arduous road back from multiple shoulder surgeries, but she looks to have the form back that saw her win this crown in 2008. Watching Sharapova in her match yesterday against compatriot Ekaterina Makarova a friend I was sitting with said he didn’t want her to win. The obvious reason is the grunting that has got so many people offside this week.
However this wasn’t the main reason. Watch Sharapova between points and you will see the nuances of her routine and once you notice them. At the end of every point Sharapova heads to the back of the court facing the wall, gives herself a little pep talk and then returns to the court. Never does she just move to the other side. This is compounded by the odd little step pattern she takes on this walk and is further accentuated when returning from her chair at the change of ends. The problem is once you have observed all this you can’t stop observing it and it becomes almost worse than the grunting.
The other night Channel Seven cameras and commentary team alerted us to the little rituals and routines that both Rafael Nadal and Thomas Berdych had; the organisation of the drink bottles and touching of the net at the change of ends respectively. There are many more and most players have them, particularly before they serve. Obviously players build a routine and this can become a superstition that needs to be carried out in order to succeed. It might seem odd and its certainly annoying when you notice it, but if most players are doing it I guess there is method in their madness.
In the next two nights we have the dream semi final match ups with the top four men’s seeds all making it through to the semi finals. A friend of mine secured tickets at the start of the tournament for tonight’s semi final and hoped that both Nadal and Federer would make it. Two days earlier she was invited to go corporately so now had two spare seats. A consultation with eBay showed that she could more than double her investment if she sold them online. She ended up selling them at face value to friends. The point being that this semi-final is probably the most anticipated match of the tournament. The ratings that Channel Seven get tonight could in all likeliness outshine the Final on Sunday night. I can’t wait.
First though we have two outstanding ladies semi-finals to look forward to today. There are three ladies of the final four that can become number one at the end of this tournament. I would have like Azarenka and Clijsters to be the final, both are very likeable players, although the anti-grunt brigade might disagree on Azarenka. Clijsters if she wins will get the bigger cheers as she is a fan favourite at Melbourne Park. However, Victoria Azarenka appears to have the game to win today and continue on for one more win on Saturday.
In the other semi, Petra Kvitova should put an end to the run or Maria Sharapova. Both matches though should go the distance, bring on the tennis.
The woman’s draw is more interesting as each round progresses. Certainly far easier than the Men’s draw as where most of us will wait for the semi-finals to be played before we can go out on a limb and try and predict a winner from within the big four. On the woman’s side picking a winner at the quarter final stage is still extremely difficult.
Watching Caroline Wozniacki a couple of nights ago there was a feeling that this was her time, the unfairly maligned world number one was looking good despite her pre-tournament wrist injury. Not anymore. Crowd favourite Kim Clijsters did a masterful job accounting for the world number one in their quarter final yesterday. Wozniacki who will now lose her ranking next week will have to look to the clay of Rolland Garros in May if her ambition of winning a major is to be realised. Losing the ranking can only help her cause.
Clijsters is the defending champion so it seems ridiculous to be talking of fairytale runs but when you have beaten two of the favourites already with a rolled ankle and it’s your last time playing here then all the hype around the run will continue to grow if she can win her semi final tomorrow. Unlike her come from behind victory against Li in the round of 16, Clijsters led from the front this time. Only faltering slightly when Wozniacki stormed back in the 2nd set, before closing it out in a tie-break and straight sets win.
Victoria Azarenka will be her next opponent after she had the first glitch of her Australian Open campaign. The number three seed dropped the first set against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, before crushing her opponent love an two to book a place in the last four. Local favourite Clijsters awaits her and if Clijsters does win she will have beaten three favourites with perhaps Kvitova to come. Ararenka has not lost a match for almost three weeks, it’s hard to see that changing tomorrow.
As the local heroes are out of the tournament, would fans on Rod Laver Arena get satisfaction from seeing the newly anointed local villain, Thomas Berdych have Rafael Nadal wipe him from the court in the same manner of some of the seagull flock’s best work this week? Well Berdych didn’t read the script. He took the first set in a tiebreak and made Nadal work for every point for the rest of the match in over four and a quarter hours. Whilst not taking the match to a fifth set Berdych might have won back a few fans with his power hitting display.
Hawkeye may still have its sceptics, but the use of the technology on Channel Seven’s coverage showing the players running path and distance in a point is great. What is more impressive though is the tracking on where the serves are being received from. Astonishingly at times last night Nadal was receiving servers three to five meters behind the baseline. If Channel Nine overdo the use of Hawkeye in the cricket then Channel Seven have it just right at the moment. Let’s hope they do not overkill.
Firstly it's amazing that the teeny-bopper population, having had a month off from Home and Away couldn’t wait one more week before its return this week. Why in an Australian Open Diary do I write about a soap opera that has been a prime time main stay for so long?
Last night Novak Djokovic completed his match against Lleyton Hewitt at just after 1am on what is effectively day nine. This could have concluded half an hour earlier if Channel Seven actually had some belief that their product of the tennis in the second week of a Grand Slam might actually out rate Home and Away.
With Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki going the distance in their fourth round match – Sharapova eventually moving through in 2 hours 15 minutes – the men were not on court until after 10pm. There was a lot of angst last night on social media about the noise of Sharapova’s grunts. Whilst I am not a fan of the grunting per se, there is ultimately nothing we can do unless opponents complain and the WTA brings in a ruling against it. We have to admire the tennis on display and if it really troubles you then hit the mute button or wear earplugs. The main issue I have with it, is that it is a blatantly a tactic. Otherwise why does Sharapova et al not make the same sounds when warming up?
If it was to be Lleyton Hewitt’s last stand on Rod Laver Arena then I am glad I stayed up to watch it all. At two sets to love and 3-0 down in the third the easy option would have been to go to bed and read about the applause Hewitt received as he walked off the court the next day. Instead a flock of seagulls stirred something in Hewitt and for the next hour and a half he wound back the clock on his career.
It appears that Hewitt has become more loved this year. It’s always the way with champions of the past that have divided public opinion. As the curtain is falling on their careers the naysayers start to hold their tongue a little more. Hewitt took a bow last night by winning the third set against the number one player in the world. It wasn’t necessarily the shot making that was impressive. Hewitt drew on every fighting quality making Djokovic play one more ball. Admiration for the man who has carried Australian tennis for the past decade flowed last night because he was clearly in discomfort.
It may be the last time Hewitt plays the Australian Open, and most probably the last time he makes the second week. The ball striking of Hewitt last night was aggressive and accurate and would give him hope for the rest of the season. However, Lleyton’s toe and left foot might not afford him the luxury of being able to turn up and play the way he wants in 2013. If it was farewell, then well played Lleyton Hewitt.
It probably wasn’t the best day to wander around with a ground pass given the temperature but it did allow me to have more than a cursory glance as a few doubles matches being played on the show courts. Watching doubles if you haven’t looked at it in a while is interesting for the first set or so. Then you realise how slow the match progresses.
Tactical chats are necessary during the match and between points if need be but is there a need to give each a high five between every point? Particularly when you have lost the point? Doubles appeals because the element of team takes over. All of a sudden as a player you are not 100% in control of the outcome and you are dependent on your partner.
Despite the pace of the play being slow, the points are generally a lot quicker with more volleys and points being finished at the net. Coming from the Tomic - Dolgopolov match where rallies regularly were in double figures to short sharp exchanges is completely different tennis. The crowd obviously feels the same with the level of noise after each point directly proportional with the length of the rally.
Tomic’s run ended tonight in almost predictable circumstances. Tomic had played eight more sets of tennis than Federer and he admitted himself that there would be an extra step up in class. All hopes of Tomic maybe pinching a set were extinguished when Federer went on a run of breaking five of Tomic’s last six service games from midway through the second set to the start of the third.
However the match of the day was the Kim Clijsters Li Na replay of last year’s final. By virtue of the woman’s world ranking system Clijsters last year’s champion was strangely seeded only 11th this year. What a rematch we go. Li had 4 match points in the second set tie break and couldn’t convert any of them. Clijsters rattled of the next six points to claim the set and then broke twice early in the third set to take a commanding lead. Despite a few jitters when trying to serve out the match the double break allowed her enough breathing space to secure victory in her second attempt at serving for the match. Li will be disappointed as will many who had her pencilled in to add the Australian crown to her French title last year.
Finally a word on Thomas Berdych and Nicolas Almagro and the boos that echoed around Hisense Arena at the conclusion of the match. Almagro played a shot that hit Berdych, apologised countless times without an acknowledgement from the Czech and still ended up losing both that game and the match. When game, set and match was announced by the chair umpire, the petulant Berdych refused to shake hands with Almagro in a pathetic display or poor sportsmanship. The beautiful part was that the crowd caught on to this and proceeded to jeer and boo Berdych for what seemed an eternity. The boos continued right through his post match on court interview and it was brilliant. Mr Berdych, we like winners in Australia and we don’t like sore losers which is a given, but you can also add that we don’t like cantankerous spoilt brats that are also sore winners.
Ana Ivanovic, not having dropped a set, is finding her way in the tournament nicely. Defeating Vania King today and setting up a tantalising fourth round match with second seed Petra Kvitova. Kvitova who is many people’s favourite for the tournament this fortnight had an easier path in her round three match leading 6-0, 1-0, KIvitova didn’t need the extra five games to progress as her opponent Maria Kirlenko withdrew with an injury.
The exciting part of the women’s draw is that we are unsure where the winner will come from. With the way the ladies rankings system works we have a number of former number one’s and previous winners in the field. Then there is the anticipation of whether the current number one Caroline Wozniacki can win her first Grand Slam.
Because of the depth of options in women’s draw we have seen a lot of lopsided matches in the early part of the week. This all changes now as many of the favourites will come up against each other earlier than they would like.
What can you say about Hewitt? He is struggling to be on court with the injuries he has had, but aren’t we glad he is. Whilst the Australian public salute the rise of a new star in the making one night we are able to reminisce and say thank you to a former champion on the alternate night. Lleyton Hewitt continues to fight another day after defeating Canada’s answer to our own rising star, Milos Raonic in four sets. A meeting with the defending champion Novak Djokovic waits.
Engrossing, captivating, enthralling are words that come to mind after watching the Tomic Dolgopolov match. Although many more experienced tennis commentators went for incredible and brilliant tennis as the adjectives in their tweets after Bernard Tomic accounted for Alexandre Dolgopolov in five sets last night. For me the final between Federer and Nadal here a few years ago was incredible. As was Novak Djokovic’s tennis for most of last year.
The match was like watching grand masters playing chess. Both plotting and trying to pre-empt the next move of their opponent. At times the match resembled squash with so much slice and little dinks trying to catch the opponent out.
If this is to be the way of new tennis after the era of Nadal and Federer then bring it on. The changes in pace combined with the placement of the shot all done to setup hopefully a killer blow was intriguing. The only downside of this type of tennis is that there appear to be fewer winners and more errors, both forced and unforced.
Rafael Nadal continues on his merry way with another comfortable win this time over Slovak Lucas Lacko. I can’t remember a year in recent time where the top two men’s players have yet to appear in the night session on Centre Court. With Tomic and Hewitt taking up the prime time slots on all nights except for the opening evening when Roger Federer started his tournament.
Commenced with such high hopes, with four Aussies in action, but ultimately ended with exits from the tournament for a triumvirate of Australian hopes. Messrs Duckworth and Ebden after strong showings early in their round two matches were beaten in four and five sets respectively. Both players will have fond memories of their best Australian Open performance of their careers.
The other sortie from the tournament was on the woman’s side with Jelena Dokic ending another campaign in Australia in disappointing circumstances against France’s Marion Bartoli in straight sets 6-2, 6-2. Turning 29 in April it appears Dokic’s best tennis is behind her. Despite her new found personal confidence, her game seems stuck in the early 2000’s with some major changes required in order to find herself in the top 10 again. Mind you Li Na is now 30 and it took her until the previous two years to break through so anything is possible.
The Australian who did make it through was Lleyton Hewitt. Of course I am of the opinion he should have done as his doubles partner Peter Luczak did and announced this to be his last Australian Open. Hewitt almost admitted as much by suggesting he was just happy to be out there and to have another opportunity to play again on Rod Laver Arena in his post match interview last night. The unfortunate injury to Andy Roddick early in the second set robbed fans of a genuine contest. Roddick bravely fought on until he could no more, conceding the match at two sets to one down.
Obviously there has been a lot of focus on the Australians in the early part of the tournament and as the tournament progress I am sure the green and gold feel will slowly slip away. Away from the Aussies, the number of matches that go the distance never ceases to amaze at Grand Slams. On the men’s side Isner (isn’t he always in the epics?) and Nalbandian; Dolgopolov and Kamke; Ferrer and Sweeting; Llordra and Bogomolov; Kukushkin and Troicki; Benneteau (a great win) and Simon; Nishikori and Ebden; Almagro and Dimitrov all in just the 2nd round. Eight out of 32 matches or 25%.
What surprised me more was that the percentage is exactly the same in the women’s side. 25% of round two matches have gone the distance. The unanswerable though is how many of these matches would go to five sets if the ladies had to play five. I am a support of having the ladies play five sets, possibly from the quarter or semi finals onwards of a grand slam. However I also think that having the knowledge that you still have sets up your sleeve allows some players to be mentally switched off for a bit longer.
The first variation to the opening days of the tournament and we have doubles to watch on the outside courts. It’s a shame doubles is not more widely played by the top players. The problem if the top players did play doubles though would mean fewer opportunities for lower ranked players to earn their next pool of travel money for the year.
One thing about Grand Slams is the discrepancy between the top players and the lower ranked players that is on display in the first week. A quirkier side is that the lower ranked players inevitably put up an early fight in the first one or two sets before falling away dramatically. Last night’s score line between Victoria Azarenka and Casey Dellacqua was a case in point. In losing 6-1, 6-0 Dellacqua showed plenty of fight throughout the match however only managed to win a game in the first set.
The men’s side is no different. Reigning champion Novak Djokovic won his round one match 6-2, 6-0, 6-0. His opponent, Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi stayed in the match in the first set winning two games, but then disappeared faster than his countryman captaining the sinking cruise ship in the Mediterranean this week. At least Lorenzi had an excuse of playing the best player of the past 12 months.
Where ever you look in the draw there are these discrepancies. The power, strength and fitness of the best players is superior to the players that are not regularly playing ATP or WTA tournaments all year round. Unfortunately there are only a number of tournaments outside the Grand Slams where lower ranked players are able to regularly battle against the players they look to emulate.
Another great win by Bernard Tomic last night will give Australia hope for the years to come at the Australian Open. Unfortunately Tomic has a very tough draw this year again. Whilst he is some chance to challenge the equally enigmatic Alexandre Dolgopolov in the next round, the winner faces potential match up against a well rested Roger Federer in the fourth round.
Day 2 is little different to Day 1 with first round matches from the other half and a buzz around the outside courts. From an Australian interest, the daytime success of wild card James Duckworth was washed away by the straight sets loss of Australia’s number one ranked player Samantha Stosur. In what bordered on a predictable display of nerves and anxiety, the US Open Champion struggled to play the convincing tennis she managed at Flushing Meadows last September.
Credit must be given to her opponent Romanian Sorana Cirstea but how the pressure gets to Sam so badly in Australia is difficult for us mere mortals to understand. Suire we all want you to win Sam and will support you to the end so why does the fear of losing rear its ugly head so much more here than in other tournaments around the world.
Tennis is predominately an individual game and a player will either in their mind carry the weight of the world (Australian fans) or they only the weight of themselves and their support crew’s aspirations with them. Stosur, when in Australia, obviously has the former mindset.
Staying on Centre Court for the evening session saw Australia’s main Grand Slam hope of the past decade Lleyton Hewitt break the record for the most consecutive appearances at the Australian Open. Whilst the local papers and indeed Channel Seven would be excited by having Lleyton as the primetime match early in the week, most tennis fans would be more excited by Duckworth and Tomic’s round one wins than Lleyton’s triumph last night.
In typical Hewitt fashion he managed to grind out a win against a player many years his junior in age and experience. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany has a career ATP record of 4 - 6 and was playing in his second grand slam. With Stebe leading 5-1 in the fourth set with the match destined for a fifth set, his shirt collar all of a sudden had a bit of extra thread and it was tighter than a pair of 1980’s footy shorts. Experience was the key in this match. Hewitt had it, Stebe didn’t, but he gained some for next time.
Hewitt’s win was a win for the papers and Channel Seven as it means a round two match up against Andy Roddick to look forward to. Although judging by the interactive question posed by Seven last night on whether Tomic or Hewitt would progress further in the tournament. More than 80% thought Tomic, a definite changing of the guard.
Walking around Melbourne Park on day one of the first Grand Slam of the year you appreciate just why it is such a popular event. Summer is a great time of the year no matter what part of the world you are in. Undoubtedly the majority of the population are happier. This resonates through the crowd with Australian enjoying their summer and travelling international guests mostly from the northern hemisphere enjoying the escape from the cold winter back at home.
However the main reason to shuffle between courts with a ground pass during the Australian Open in the first week is of course the tennis that is on display on the outside courts and the stories that lie beneath.
On the outside courts early in a grand slam you often get top 20 ranked players playing against the qualifiers, wild card winners and lower ranked players who managed to earn their spot in the draw. This is where as spectators you can see dreams being made for these lower ranked individuals, dreams that mean just as much as for the top seeds trying to win the tournament.
Watching the reaction of Australia’s Olivia Rogowska after her maiden victory in the Australian Open main draw on her fourth attempt was clearly a special moment for her. Earlier we had watched Greg Jones, playing in his first main draw Australian Open and leading the 13th seed Alexandre Dolgopolov two sets to love in what looked like being a shock upset. Unfortunately for Greg the challenge of playing and winning his first five set round one match with 35 degree heat as company was too much.
Jones’ struggles to play out the match were difficult to watch for the supportive crowd but they were also admirable when an easier option of retirement would have seemed like a better way out. Hopefully for Jones his efforts inspire him to bigger things this year and to come back next year fitter for his second attempt in the main draw.
There is always plenty of drama on the outside courts in the first few days of a Grand Slam, the mini triumphs and devastations are equally as enthralling as the big guns warm up for week two in the stadiums next door.