Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 Australian Open happenings:
10. "...I should have surgery before every Grand Slam": That's what Agnieszka Radwanska said in reponse to a comment that she got to the quarterfinals without having practiced. Radwanska played with a stress fracture in her foot through part of the 2010 season. When she finally stopped, she had to have surgery, and was told she would not be able to return to the tour until March. She recovered more rapidly than expected, and--at the last minute--entered the tournament. And despite Radwanska's service issues that generally stop her from seriously contending for a major, a run to the quarterfinals, under the circumstances, was quite an accomplishment.
9. I'll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places: Petra Kivitova isn't quite there yet, but she's getting closer and closer to becoming a force on the women's tour. She's still streaky, and she still has a tendency to get tight and make errors. Kvitova, though, is an all-out kind of player, and will probably always make a lot of errors. She has learned to protect herself somewhat, however, by not always hitting the ball so flat. She has a way to go, but her hitting is so impressive, one can't help but believe she will continue to improve and mature.
8. No retirement benefits: Venus Williams, who just can't seem to catch a break lately, had to retire in a major for the first time in her career. Williams sustained a groin injury during the first set tiebreak of her second round match. Her opponent, an in-form Sandra Zahlavova, won that set, but Williams went on to win the match. She was really hurt, though, and the retirement that was expected in the second round occurred in the third. Williams attempted to return Andrea Petkovic's serve in the second game, let out a cry of pain, and that was that. Some people in the crowd booed, literally adding insult to injury.
7. No strings attached: This is unforgettable.
6. Glazed Danish: An obviously anxious Li Na was down a
set and a break against top seed Caroline Wozniacki during the
semifinals. When the second set reached 5-all, however, Li regained her
confidence and never looked back. Li defeated Wozniacki 3-6, 7-5, 6-3,
and Wozniacki walked away with ten winners, none of which was hit during
the final set. Wozniacki went out in the semifinals in the 2010 U.S.
Open, and in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. And while she claims she
feels no pressure as the top-ranked player in the world, her clever,
accurate, but non-aggressive game may need to be revised again.
5. The little motore that (almost) could: You could say that Francesca Schiavone wasn't exactly fresh for her quarterfinal match against top seed Caroline Wozniacki. She had played an almost five-hour, very physical (and very mental) round of 16 match, and was expected to have very little left to give. The joke was on observers: Schiavone took the first set off Wozniacki, and went up a break in the second. She finally showed her fatigue by making multiple unforced errors, and Wozniacki defeated her 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. But the Italian showed, once again, that she is tougher than tough, and that she gives away nothing.
4. What do you mean, the match is almost over?: Gisela Dulko seemed to realize that very thing, right after she and partner Flavia Pennetta went down a set, 1-4 and a point from 1-5 in the doubles championship match. Dulko, who had been the weaker player of the team throughout the first and second sets--just on the brink of defeat--suddenly turned on some inner switch and went on a volleying frenzy that turned the match around. From that point on, it was all about the top seeds, who won their first major (against Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.
3. Big Sister Na in charge: Li Na was seeded 9th at the Australian Open, but that didn't stop her from making a run all the way to the final. Her press conferences and on-court interviews were (much like Schiavone's) more of a gulp, than a breath, of fresh air. The straight-talking, consistently hilarious "Golden Flower" of China showed fans some of the best hitting in the tournament. Despite taking out the top seed, she lost in the final, but in many ways, she was the star of this Open.
2. She's Aussie Kim now: Kim Clijsters' second career, it turns out, isn't about just the U.S Open. Clijsters didn't drop a set until she reached the final, when she lost the first set to Li Na. She then used her athleticism and shot variety--and took advantage of a mentally collapsing opponent--to win her fourth major, and her first Australian Open. If Clijsters stays healthy, she can make this second career quite memorable.
1. Schiavone def. Kuznetsova, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14: "Thank goodness the second set was 6-1," Pam Shriver remarked after it took Francesca Schiavone and Svetalana Kuznetsova four hours and 44 minutes to play their fourth round match. I've covered the match in detail here, so I'll just say that the quality, the drama, the athleticism, and the all-out effort by both women makes this match a classic for all time. Those who saw it will never forget it.