Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Australian Open 2016 Reflections

Now that the dust has settled and the trophies presented to the victorious competitors, I have a few reflections from the fortnight at the Australian Open.

1. Nadal losing to Verdasco in the 1st round.

This was the stand-out moment of the entire fortnight for me. First and foremost, there was some top quality tennis on show. People point out the errors from Verdasco but choose to ignore the equal number of winners he hit. His forehand was on fire and Nadal had no answer to it. After struggling with illness and further injury coupled with a tentaive comeback for the last 16 months or so, the question on my mind is "Why is Nadal still playing tennis? What is his motivation?" The guy has won 14 majors and is a legend of the game. But he is seriously looking weaker with each year and he may not win another major. His records and career stats can only go one way now and I wonder how much longer he can stand to see his stock fall. This will be a key year for Rafa. Can he remain in the top 8? Can he capture another Roland Garros? Just how deep can he go at Wimbledon and the US Open? Can his body handle this busy Olympic year? Will he dump Uncle Toni and try a fresh coaching appointment? There are certainly more questions than answers right now for Nadal.

2. Angelique Kerber winning the ladies singles title

Who saw this one coming? Not many, apparently. Beating Serena in the final is obviously the best way to triumph and represents a defining moment in the German's career. With the win, she has risen to #2 in the rankings and will now feel the pressure to maintain the sort of performances she showed in Melbourne. To be honest, the draw opened up nicely for her - she only faced 2 seeded players in the entire competition (seed 14 Azarenka in the QF and seed 1 Serena in the final). So she had some luck in that respect. However, she also showed a lot of fight and character, coming from match point down in the very first round to go on win the championship.
Can Kerber now establish herself as one of the world's finest? Will she win another major this year? Can she keep up these performances with added pressure of increased status and high ranking involved?

3. The Match-fixing Scandal

This is one I didn't want to mention but had to because of the coverage it has received. The names of Novak Djokovic and Lleyton Hewitt, amongst others, are the more recognisable names linked to the scandal, perhaps slanderously. Only time and investigations will tell, but match-fixing is something tennis needs to eliminate as quickly and harshly as possible.

4. Lleyton Hewitt's Farewell to Tennis

This was one of the enduring moments of the Australian Open of 2016. He put up a good fight in his final defeat to David Ferrer, and the Spaniard was very discreet in his own on-court interview, preferring to allow Lleyton to enjoy his moment. Hewitt was the pioneer of the baseline game for these modern players. He showed it could be successful when courts were faster than what they are today. He battled injury to play with passion and ignite crowds with his never-say-die attitude and fired-up demeanour. The video tribute to Lleyton featuring Federer, Nadal, Kyrgios and Murray was also an excellent touch as Australia said goodbye to a tennis hero.

5. Zhang and Konta's Deep Runs

Two unseeded women, one Chinese, one British. Zhang, a qualifier, reaching the quarters while Konta went all the way to the semis. Zhang defeated Halep in the first round, while Konta knocked out Venus Williams. Impressive statements that led to their quarter-final clash. I was very impressed with Konta's tennis, playing aggressive with a fabulous forehand. Will this be a one-off showing for these two players, or is it the start of something great?

6. Federer's Masterclass against Goffin

There have been so many adjectives and metaphors used in an attempt to describe Roger Federer's tennis genius, and it was on display in the 4th round against poor David Goffin. Federer was hitting every shot in and out of the book with such clean fluency and pinpoint precision while dancing around the court like a majestic ballet dancer. His movement was tremendous and his execution of the backhand down the line sublime. It was a real treat, real tennis, and really, really awesome.

7. Emergence of Milos Raonic

Yes, this was the tournament where Milos Raonic really announced himself as a genuine challenger at major tournaments. His route to the semis was achieved with a monster serve and forehand as well as an improved all-round game. Perhaps most impressive was his composure. Nowhere better was this highlighted than in his 5-set win over Wawrinka. He stayed calm throughout Wawrinka's comeback in sets 3 and 4 and then stepped it up in the 5th. If he can stay injury-free he can be a decent challenger to Djokovic with a different power-play style of tennis. He looks ready to go deeper and perhaps cause a shift in dominance of mens tennis.

8. Djokovic winning his SF and Final too easily

As impressive as Djokovic's consistency in hitting balls deep is, his SF and Final victories seemed too easy for him. Granted, Federer finally woke up and gave Djokovic a minor scare in the 3rd and 4th sets of their semi-final, but before that, it really was one-way traffic. As it was in the 1st set against Murray in the final. Despite the 7-5, 7-6 scoreline in the 2nd and 3rd sets, you just never felt Murray was in it and was going to really present Djokovic with any problems. Who is going to test Djokovic in 2016? Who has the ability to step it up and hurt the Serbian #1? Can he complete the Career Grand Slam this year? The Calendar Slam?

9. Bruno Soares

Yes, the unheralded Brazilian, Bruno Soares, won two major events at the Australian Open. He teamed up with Elena Vesnina to win the mixed doubles title, and also triumphed in the mens doubles with Jamie Murray. A memorable tournament for him personally. 

With Hingis and Mirza also enjoying huge success in womens doubles, just how important are the doubles events in tennis? Do we take them seriously? Should they be taken more seriously? Is a doubles major title less significant than a singles major title? Or do they carry equal weight?