I’ve given it about a week, but I’m still having some trouble processing what I witnessed during the recently-concluded Australian Open.
This may be due to brain damage caused by repeated–indeed, relentless–exposure to that goddamned Visit Melbourne poem commercial.
Nevertheless, we must persevere on. What did we just witness? A revival by the sport’s great champions, one that portends more unforgettable matchups to come? Or a fluke occurrence that we’ll never see again, once the rest of the ranks reassert themselves?
Roger Federer wins the Australian Open: more interesting times to come?
My best guess: a little from column A, a little from column B.
However partisan one may be when it comes to the tennis legends who played in the Aussie finals, you have to acknowledge that a lot of luck worked in their favor.
Returning to full health certainly made a big difference for Nadal and Federer. Then again, neither having to play either Djokovic or Murray made a big difference, too.
Indeed, the real question may involve those two worthies much more so than the two legends. For instance, what’s up with Djokovic? After being sent packing by Denis Istomin, Djokovic is now three Slam tournaments removed from his last championship. It’s often said: once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. Is this just a lull, or is what happened to both Federer and Nadal before him happening now to Djokovic? He did not look particularly impressive in his Aussie Open loss; it’s not like Istomin played out of his mind in sending the Serb packing. Djokovic’s showing at Roland Garros will be very telling, not just for that moment but for the foreseeable future. Given the extended period of time during which Djokovic played the game at the highest level, it would be only natural if he falls into an extended lull in this next year or so.
If Djokovic fails to re-ascend in Paris, then the question becomes: will Andy Murray take advantage and entrench himself at the top of the ranks? Or was his Aussie exit a sign that he is about to return to his previously feckless ways? I don’t have much confidence in Murray; never will, really. So I don’t expect him to really step back up; he’ll play, and have his wins, but no dominance is to be expected there.
All of that says that Nadal and Federer have an opening. I doubt we’ll see them playing each other in the finals upcoming in Paris, London, and New York; the other guys own racquets, too. We know that Wawrinka and Dimitrov are perfectly capable of getting to a major semifinal or final, or indeed actually winning it. We know, at the least, that Wawrinka can beat the Big Four players; he’s done it before, though not that often (a losing record against all of the BF players), and that means they can beat him, too.
All in all, the hurdles to either Federer or Nadal–or both–having a big 2017 may not be as high as they appeared coming into the year.
As for the women’s side…that looked like more of the same, in more ways than one. Seeing Venus Williams revisit her past glory was a nice storyline–especially given the grace and enthusiasm she showed in making her run–but at best it’s a blip in the progress of the women’s game. Safe to say, when women’s tennis fans pondered what might get in the way of a monotonous Slam winning streak by Serena Williams, a challenge by Serena’s older sister was not what they had in mind.
Yet, again, it turns out that when it comes to fecklessness, Andy Murray has nothing on the top women’s players. Angie Kerber–she of the few minutes being ranked No. 1 in the world–melted faster than an ice cream cone in Melbourne Park. That Wozniackian performance was just the biggest kick in a chorus line of top women’s players dancing off the stage: Murgurutha, Halep, Radwanska, and Pliskova all bit it by the quarterfinals despite top 10 rankings. Bleh.
The one good thing to come out of the women’s side of the Aussie was the obvious: CoCo Vandeweghe. She actually put up a fight, and showed enough talent and–this is the important thing–attitude to believe that, with effort and progression, she could become a serious, non-wilting contender in the not-too-distant future. The attitude is at least as important as CoCo’s powerful serve; she may be the one person on the women’s tour with enough spunk to be the tour’s version of a honey badger, which is what the female side of the sport desperately needs. (It also desperately needs another successful American player.)
So it’s all the proverbial mixed bag–and even that is tempered by the usual caution that the Australian Open is the oddball Slam tournament, and you don’t really know what it means for the future. But if Vandeweghe keeps booming that serve, and if there’s more potential for Federer or Nadal to make some deep runs again this year…well, let’s just say, I’m going to have to set the alarm clock to wake me up early in late May, when interesting things could be happening on the clay at Roland Garros.