The 2008 Australian Open had some special features. An important element was the new surface, whose success can be measured by the fact that there was only one ankle injury in the entire tournament, and no one got hauled off on a stretcher because of heat illness. Another thing that made the 2008 tournament special was that we knew, after the quarterfinals, that there would be a first-time Australian Open champion. Also, the newly retired Sandra de Jenken was conspicuous by her absence. Here are my top 10, in ascending order:
10. She's...back!: Marta Domachowska, whose career had slid practically out of sight, started this season in good fashion, and punctuated that start with an impressive round of 16 appearance in Melbourne, giving Venus Williams all kinds of trouble before being defeated 6-4, 6-4.
9. Caroline Wozniacki--danger waiting to happen: The under-the-radar phenom from Denmark showed the world what her game--and her court personality--is all about in her quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic. There were moments when I wondered whether Ivanovic would survive.
8. Oi oi oi!: Casey Dellacqua got fit, got ready, and got a chance to make an entire continent proud of her. She went out in the round of 16, but she had a great run, taking out unprepared former Australian Open champion Amelie Mauresmo along the way.
7. Hey, you two--this isn't the French Open!: Jelena Jankovic and Tamira Paszek saw to it that the most exciting match of the tournament would take place in the first round, and broke each other again and again, leading to a three-set thriller, in which Paszek served for the match five times, had three match points, and was finally extinguished by the tour's best defensive player.
6. We tried to tell her: Jelena Jankovic came to Melbourne with an injured thigh, made worse by her repeated attempts to play in the Hopman Cup, and her now chronic back injury finally did her in. Too much match play in 2007 broke down her body and greatly diminished her Australian Open chances.
5. Serena Williams goes "crazy": That is her word, and it will do as well as any.
4. When sports psychology is not enough: Long known as the biggest choker on the tour, Daniela Hantuchova--who has worked so hard to get her ranking back--got destroyed last summer in the U.S. Open by a significantly injured Serena Williams. This time, she lost it at 6-0, 2-0, and allowed Ana Ivanovic to go to the final. While it is evident that Hantuchova is no longer the neurotic perfectionist she once was, she still does not know how to accept the idea of winning.
3. Maria Sharapova cruises: The champion runs through the entire tournament without dropping a set.
2. The Bondarenko sisters decide it's time to win a tournament: In 38 tries, they had never done it, so they figured a good first tournament to win was a Grand Slam.
And number 1...
The full-throttle dismantling of Justine Henin in the quarterfinals: Maria Sharapova sends a message, with a side order of cream cheese.