Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Australian Open top 10

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

10. Never too late: The unseeded team of Abigail Spears and Juan Sebastian Cabal won the Australian Open mixed doubles title, and did it by beating the 2nd seeds. More impressive, they did it by beating a team of which Sania Mirza was a member. Spears and Cabal defeated Mirza and Ivan Dodig 6-2, 6-4. The 35-year-old Spears had been two two other major mixed doubles finals (both at the U.S. Open), but this is her first major mixed doubles title.

9. Never too soon: The talented Yui Kamiji won her third wheelchair singles major, knocking off top seed Jiske Griffioen 6-7, 6-3, 6-3. However, Kamiji and her partner, Diede De Groot, lost the doubles final to Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot. This is Kamiji's fourth major singles title; she holds eight major doubles titles. Griffioen also has four major singles titles (and 14 major doubles titles). With the extremely dominant Esther Vergeer out of the picture, women's wheelchair tennis has turned into a highly competitive event. It was very competitive before, of course, in terms of quality--but Vergeer was winning all the titles.

8. Si-Mohhh-Naaa!: After losing in the first round last year, 4th seed Simona Halep lost in the first round again. The Romanian apparently strayed too close to what The Backspinner aptly refers to as "The Cliffs Of Simona," and tumbled right over into the void. I expect her to do much better in Paris, but meanwhile, having the first major of the season as your nemesis is not a pleasant experience.

7. Conspicuous by their absence: Yes, it was a great Australian Open, but it was notable for those who did not attend. Two-time champion Vika Azarenka, former champion Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, and Madison Keys--all elite players--could not be there. One especially wonders what the combination of cooler temperatures and faster courts might have meant for Kvitova.

6. Age before everything: The four semifinalists had a combined age of 130, with CoCo Vandeweghe being the "baby," at age 25. Youth is most definitely not being served. A 35-year-old won the tournament (ATP, also), and a 36-year-old was the runner-up.

5. All CoCo, no puff: CoCo Vandeweghe did some very heavy lifting in this tournament, taking out the tricky former U.S. Open runner-up Roberta Vinci, former Wimbledon runner-up Genie Bouchard, defending champion (and U.S. Open champion) and world number 1 Angie Kerber, and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. She fell to Venus Williams in the semifinal, but not without a fight. The occasion appeared to get to Vandeweghe at that point, but if she can overcome that sort of (expected) lapse, she has nowhere to go but up. The 25-year-old Californian has refined both her game and her athleticism a great deal, and her Australian Open performance was, for the most part, very impressive.

4. Venus still rising: We've focused so much on the "never count Serena out" storyline, but we also need to devote some attention to the "never count Venus out" part of the plot. In a surprising/not-surprising run, the older (by a year) Williams sister made it all the way to the final, her first (in the majors) in eight years. She lost to her sister in straight sets, but those sets included some vintage Venus play. And her joyful spirit dominated the event--a happy and grateful Venus is something I wish we could bottle and give to the world.

3. Just dance: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova won the doubles title, defeating Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai in the final. And with all the inspirational/feel good stories floating about in Melbourne, this one somehow got left out. Between Safarova's steady recovery following a serious illness and subsequent reactive arthritis and Mattek-Sands' transcendence of an entire career's worth of setbacks, this was a victory worth dancing over.

2. A story for the ages: It wasn't a new story--we saw Jelena Dokic, whose career was severely inhibited by the abuse she suffered from her father, make a memorable and emotional comeback at the 2009 Australian Open. This time, it was Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who also suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her father, and who lost a major portion of her career. When the Croatian player returned in 2007, it was to function as a giant-killer. But at this year's Australian Open, she was something else--a giant.

Lucic-Baroni extended her run all the way to the semifinals, where she fell to eventual champion Serena Williams. However, her quarterfinal defeat of 5th seed Karolina Pliskova, whom many had picked to win the whole thing, was arguably the story of the tournament, on the women's side. Lucic-Baroni's last appearance in a major semifinal had occurred 18 years earlier at Wimbledon, when she was labeled a prodigy, having already won (with Martina Hingis) the Australian Open doubles title in 1998, at the age of 15.

But beating Pliskova wasn't Lucic-Baroni's only dramatic feat. In the second round, she took out 3rd seed Aga Radwanska in straight sets. Those who saw Lucic-Baroni's performance at this Australian Open will never forget it. As the Croation star herself said: "I can't believe this, this is crazy."

1. You can't "come back" when you never go away: Serena Williams lost the 2016 Australian Open final and the 2016 French Open final. A correction had to be made, and she made it emphatically in Melbourne. The "new" world number 1 took the title without dropping a set (though she had some game competition from Barbora Strycova in the round of 16), then defeated her sister in the final to win her sixth Australian Open title. Williams now has a total of 23 major singles titles, and one wold be well advised to not put the calculator away any time soon.


Todd.Spiker said...

HaHa! Love the subtle sound effects... "Si-Mohhh-Naaa!"

And who'd have thought that, one year later, this AO could be recalled with Kerber hardly even being a footnote? So much happened, though, that her not-so-memorable "year after" result sort of got lost in the weeds. Probably a good thing.

Hadn't thought about that with Petra, but you're so right... :\

Diane said...

We may need an epic "The White Cliff of Dover" poem for Simona, if this keeps up.

Yeah, Kerber was able to sneak out quietly; I'm kind of glad.