Sunday, February 1, 2015

My Australian Open top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 Australian Open occurrences:

10. Talk about the luck of the draw: This year's draw ceremony was presided over by 2014 champion Li Na, which meant that the draw and accompanying analysis were hilarious. As far as I'm concerned, Li can preside at every major draw from now on.

9. When I say "hit it!" come out of nowhere: Madison Brengle has been around for a long time, but unless you follow U.S. tennis closely, you may not have heard of her. The Delaware native never made much of an impact until this year in Hobart, when she reached the final. Brengle had to go through qualifying, and then beat the likes of Mona Barthel, Karin Knapp and Kurumi Nara before falling to Heather Watson.

Would she keep her form when faced with playing at the Australian Open? Yes! Brengle started her Melbourne campaign by upsetting 13th seed Andrea Petkovic, then defeated countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe. A third countrywoman, Madison Keys, stopped her run, but it was an amazing one.

8. "The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling": In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, people are turned into pods, and what emerges from each pod looks like the person, sounds like the person, walks and talks like the person--but everyone can tell that the actual person just isn't there. Simona Halep, what did they do with you?

The world number 3 had a horrible draw, and her first potential horror arrived in the quarterfinals in the form of ever-dangerous Ekaterina Makarova. There is, of couse, no shame to losing to Makarova at a major, but this was more than a loss: Halep seemed to just not be present, especially in the second set, in which she failed to win a game. She talked about stress in her press conference, denying the existence of pressure, yet the stress to which she referred really sounded like the same thing.

7. I'll have whatever you're serving: Martina Hingis, holder of three Australian Open singles titles, four doubles titles and a 2006 mixed doubles title, added one more this week. She and Leander Paes won the mixed doubles competition, defeating defending champions Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor. Watching Hingis return serve on the doubles court was a reminder of how great she is--as if we needed to be reminded.

6. Retire this: For once, Venus Williams didn't find herself bombarded with questions about her "upcoming" retirement from the sport. It's just not something you ask of an Australian Open quarterfinalist. Obviously feeling stronger, Williams took out such quality opponents as Camila Giorgi and Aga Radwanska before losing to countrywoman Madison Keys. We now await what the five-time Wimbledon champion has in store for us in June.

5. It's all about the Madisons: Madison Brengle's run may have been a surprise, but Madison Keys' wasn't. Many years ago, Keys' mentor, Chris Evert, told us to be patient--that Keys was going to be a force. Coached by Lindsay Davenport, Keys fulfilled Evert's prediction at this Australian Open. In the third round, she upset Wimbledon champion and 4th seed Petra Kvitova, whom many (including Women Who Serve) considered the most likely woman to lift the trophy. In the round of 16, Keys won the bizarre "Battle of the Madisons."

Then she had to face Serena Williams. The first set of their quarterfinal match was very close, with Williams taking it in a tiebreak. The world number 1 then turned on her switch and had an easier time of it in the second set until--just because she could--Keys saved eight match points. The drama she created was one of the highlights of the Open, and though she lost (did I mention she was playing Serena?), her big serving and court poise emphasized her arrival as a potentially elite player.

4. USA!: Seven women from the USA made it to the third round, there were four in the round of 16,  three in the quarterfinals, and two in the semifinals. Of course, the singles champion is from the U.S., and so is half of the championship doubles team. There is no other word to describe the USA's performance in this major but "dominant."

3. Why are you so upset?: What do Jelena Jankovic, Andrea Petkovic, Flavia Pennetta, Belinda Bencic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sabine Lisicki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Carla Suarez Navarro, and Angelique Kerber have in common? They all went out in the first round. They were all seeded players, and their expulsion--taken as a group--was shocking.

But there's more: Both Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur went out in the second round. Wozniacki gets a pass because she played Official Dangerous Floater and two-time Australian Open champion Vika Azarenka. As for Stosur--well, she was playing in Australia. Maria Sharapova survived the second round, but had to save two match points against Alexandra Panova. The third round, of course, featured the demise of Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska.

2. No practice, no worries: The pairing of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova actually sounds like a dream team, and it was. Both women are huge talents in the world of doubles, and--without practicing together--they did a last-minute entry into the Australian Open. Unseeded and unprepared, Mattek-Sands and Safarova won the whole thing, taking out 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina along the way.

1.  So, how big is that trophy case?: On Saturday, world number 1 Serena Williams won her sixth Australian Open title, defeating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 in the final. It wouldn't be accurate to say that Williams did it with her serve because her entire game is outstanding. But there's no doubt that when she turns her serve on, her chances become better, and she turned her serve on big-time.

I refuse to call the Williams-Sharapova tennis relationship a rivalry; Sharapova would have to win some of the matches for me to do that. But the relationship is more than just an occasional meeting of two great players. They tend to bring out the best in each other, and Sharapova's decade-long quest to defeat Williams (the last time she did it was in 2004) is one for the books. It was a pleasure to watch them both in this final.

Williams has now won 19 major singles titles. Last year, she didn't win one until the last minute, but in 2015, she has already taken one, so--as she herself acknowledged--she can relax and enjoy for the rest of the season. Sounds dangerous to me.


vudoosj said...

venus did not play varvara at ao2015

Diane said...

I saw that and thought "of course she didn't--huh"--and then I looked! Who knows what brought that about? Thanks!

CLT said...

As I get older I am noticing age discrimination more. In the match between Venus and Madison Keys, the Australian commentators kept referring to Venus as "the 34-year-old" and also occasionally to Madison as the 19-year-old. They were obviously trying to drum up a sense of drama, but I thought it was really patronising of them both and particularly Venus. It's about the tennis, not the age!

Diane said...

I know. Identifying their ages is one thing, but then it turns into something else, doesn't it?

Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, finally a slam where the aftermath won't involve sideways -- or direct -- calls for Venus' retirement.

Nice. :)

(And suddenly the U.S. Fed Cup team -- at least for one weekend -- looks very, very strong, too.)