Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thoughts on Australian Open 2014

The last time I blogged about tennis was probably right before last year's French Open which meant I didn't get to talk about the craziest Wimbledon in the history of ever or the US Open that was plagued yet again by rain. But it's a new year and the results at this year's Australian Open compelled me to put a few words together.

Close Call for Victorious Li Na

Li Na was down a match point in her third round match against Lucie Safarova, but the latter woman's backhand down the line on match point missed by just an inch enabling Li to right the ship for the rest of the match and cruising her way to victory. Defeating first-time Grand Slam finalist Dominika Cibulkova, Li avenged her two prior final losses at Melbourne for her first Australian Open title and second overall. She always seemed to me to be the kind of player who should have more than one Grand Slam title and now that she has two, I'm hoping it leads to many more. Certainly with two, she's already a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, and her superb personality is sure to catapult her to even bigger levels of fame off court.

Small Dominika Cibulkova Upsets Big Seeds

Even though she couldn't quite win her maiden slam against fourth seed Li Na, Dominika Cibulkova had a breakthrough tournament beating third ranked Maria Sharapova and fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska (who beat defending champion Victoria Azarenka) and also becoming the first Slovak to reach a Grand Slam final. It's worth noting that for the last six major tournaments, she'd done no better than reach the 3rd round. It's also worth noting that she's only 5'3". Small frame, but huge game and huge tournament for her.

Stan Wawrinka Finally Comes Out on Top

After he beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in yet another 5-set thriller in the quarterfinal, it seemed like that was the best Stan Wawrinka could hope for. It would have been a fantastic result for him, finally beating Djokovic after losing to the Serb twice last year (once at the Australian Open) in 5-set matches and reaching the semifinals at Melbourne for the first time. And yet he kept winning, winning two of three tiebreaks in a four-set win against Tomas Berdych to reach his very first Grand Slam final. With his H2H 0-12 against top seed Rafael Nadal, he was seen as the big underdog in the final. But he handled Nadal's balls better than his compatriot a round before and was also helped that Nadal wasn't 100% physically. Didn't really matter though as Wawrinka won his maiden Slam in his first slam final (like fellow champions Martina Hingis and that Roger guy did before him). He moves up to a career high no. 3 in the rankings and more notably, takes over the Swiss no. 1 ranking.

History Slightly Delayed for Rafael Nadal

Top seed Rafael Nadal wasn't able to compete at last year's tournament so reaching the final this year, tying Pete Sampras for number of times in GS finals, was a monumental result. To do this with a nasty blister on one of his hands which everyone couldn't stop talking about also added an extra layer to his tournament. So it wasn't really surprising that in the three matches leading to the final, he didn't exactly cruise getting pushed to play five tiebreaks. He won them all, of course, including the one to win the opening set against his rival Roger Federer in the semifinals erasing any hope early for the Swiss to win his first match against the Spaniard in 7 years. In the final, he met another Swiss man who hadn't won a single set off of him in the past. With a win, Nadal would've been the only male player in the modern era to win each of the Grand Slams at least twice and solidifying his case for Greatest of All Time. He didn't win and he might have injured himself in the process, but doing this well at his worst Slam? That should tell you what's left for him this year.

Now What for Roger Federer?

This may sound weird, but I think Roger Federer had a good tournament. Coming from a hardcore fan, that may sound completely delusional. After all, he lost yet again to his rival Nadal, falls down to number 8 in the rankings, and loses the top Swiss rank to his friend Wawrinka. But after his tough 2013 and his somewhat challenging draw, it's hopeful he was able to reach the top 4 beating a couple of top 10 seeds in the process including Andy Murray. I mean he literally was down and out and people were questioning his ability to win slams and there he was just a match away from another final. One can't help but wonder what if he had made the finals. He would've been the favorite to win against his countryman (though who knows?) which would've meant slam number 18. He also came close to winning a smaller title this year, losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Will 2014 be a year of too close for Federer? He has a new bigger racket and a new coach. We'll see.

Tennis is Still Unpredictable

Wawrinka beating Djokovic and Nadal might be the result of the tournament, but there were a bunch of results that were just as surprising: Ana Ivanovic defeating Serena Williams and Sam Stosur, Juan Martin Del Potro losing to 62nd ranked Roberto Bautista Agut, and first round losses of Petra Kvitova, John Isner, Tommy Haas, and Sara Errani. In the midst of all of this, a couple of new names came to the forefront: Canadian teenager and Justin Bieber fan Eugenie Bouchard reached the semis while Grigor Dimitrov made a name for himself other being Sharapova's boyfriend or "Baby Fed" by taking a set off Nadal in his first ever Grand Slam quarters. This is why they play.

Finally, the Heat

The heat. That was the unfortunate star of the tournament during the first week as Melbourne was gripped with an extreme heatwave with temperatures reaching to 120 degrees or more most days. It contributed to a few of those early upsets as a large number of players retired, withdrew, or were just negatively affected early on due to the heat. Fans also stayed away that first week making the Happy Slam more like the Empty Slam. Thankfully the extreme heat subsided during the first weekend and stayed that way making room for some much better tennis for everyone overall.

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