Ten lessons learned at this year’s Australian Open
Originally published on: 10/03/10 16:20
1) Jim’ll fix it
This one will likely divide opinion, but we’re huge fans of the ‘Jim Courier on-court interview’ and we’re not afraid to say so. With his unique and casually witty style, Courier somehow managed to avoid the often awkward, occasionally squirming and cliché-ridden responses players usually deliver while forced to talk about what they do best.
Instead, the charismatic American created the illusion that he and his interview ‘victim’ were alone, thus blocking out the 16,000 strong crowd and eliciting the kind of humor-filled, relaxed responses that are so rarely seen under the media spotlight. That interviewing lark sure is a talent, and boy Courier’s got it.
The four-time Grand Slam champ had Rafael Nadal confused, found a way to open up the ever-private Andy Murray, and had a relaxed Roger Federer on fire, prompting numerous comical comments from the world No.1 after his semi-final victory over Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.
“It’s all talent, I don’t work, I just sit on the couch,” was one such gem from the world No.1. We actually wouldn’t be surprised if this were true of Fed; the great man is above and beyond logical reasoning.
That said – and though we’ll find a way to forgive him- we weren’t so impressed by the joking reference to Britain’s ‘150,000 year’ wait for a Grand Slam title.
That one hurt…
2) Much to learn, Bernard
A future champ in waiting, 17-year-old Bernard Tomic caused a bit of a stir in his third Grand Slam appearance. We know he hasn’t endeared himself to Lleyton Hewitt after their Wimbledon bust up – perhaps the Aussie No.1 doesn’t like the similarities between the temperamental kid and his younger self – but Tomic both impressed and disappointed in Melbourne. Pushing 14th seed Marin Cilic to five sets proved to be an excellent effort from the youngster from the Gold Coast – particularly seeing as Cilic went on to make the semi-finals. But Tomic’s verbal talents haven’t quite caught up with his promising game, as the youngster proceeded to ‘put his foot in it’ with his post-match comments.
The Stuttgart-born junior US Open and Australian Open champ complained about finishing his match at nearly 2am, arguing that he might have won had his tie been scheduled earlier. Tournament organiser Craig Tiley was less than impressed. But Tomic’s father John has since waded in to the argument, threatening to quit Australia and have his son compete for Croatia instead. All sounds worryingly reminiscent of another over-zealous tennis father from Eastern Europe…
3) Real men cry…
Roger Federer liked it. We liked it. Andy Murray probably didn’t. But for the rest of us, we’re rather pleased that if defeat had to come, it came with a good ol’ dose of the waterworks. “That showed me how much he cares,” said the Swiss maestro after Murray’s tears in defeat replicated the emotional Federer at the 2009 Aussie Open.
While us Brits have never questioned Murray’s desire for a Grand Slam; a fair few have been guilty of questioning the Scot’s personality. Hopefully the 22-year-old’s uncharacteristic show of emotion will get the sceptical half of the nation on-side.
And if that doesn’t do it, Murray’s quick fire line; “I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him” certainly helped.
And those that still aren’t convinced, you believe in Fed right? Well so de we; the guy is never wrong. “You’re too good of a player not to win a Grand Slam”, he told the Scot after earning his sixteenth Slam.
Murray’s time will come, Federer says so.
4) Women’s tennis is on the up…
Okay, so regardless of only having one fully functional leg, Serena Williams still emerged victorious in Melbourne, but women’s tennis still looks set for a thumping 2010. Despite her mummified right leg, the world No.1 proved a worthy champion in Melbourne – equalling Billie Jean King’s record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles in the process.
Williams is not short of challengers though, as the Aussie Open proved, and the 28-year-old is set for a tough old year. With new faces starting to hit the heights, old ones have resurfaced. And while the fortunes of the comeback queens wavered – Kim Clijsters capitulated in round three; Justine Henin catapulted through to the final – the remaining three Slam’s look set to be fiercely contested.
And we’ve not even mentioned the tour’s rising stars, Victoria Azarenka (who came so close to her first Grand Slam Semi-final), new world No.3 Caroline Wozniacki (who improved on her 2009 Melbourne showing to hop a place in the rankings), and perhaps even Maria Kirilenko who charged 21 spots up the ladder after proving more than capable against the top players. After a disillusioned 2009, Women’s tennis is back.
5) Raising the bar
Just when you thought Roger Federer could not possibly be any more of an ambassador for our sport, the Swiss goes and trumps himself with a last-minute fund-raiser. Coining the ‘Hit for Haiti’ the day before the Aussie Open, Fed and friends laughed and joked their way round the court to raise almost $140,000 dollars in gate receipts and public donations for victims of the Haiti earthquake. That figure has since more than quadrupled thanks to backing from the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Grand Slam committee, while player rackets were also auctioned off, at huge sums. And whose racket racked up the most? You guessed it. It’s that man Fed again; a modern day hero.
6) Hewitt runs into that brick wall again
While we’re thinking of Federer, spare a thought for Lleyton Hewitt, who has suffered more than his fair share of defeats to the world No.1. Fifteen in a row to be precise after his latest straight sets defeat to Fed in the fourth round in Melbourne. Hewitt – himself a former world No.1 – has never beaten the supreme Swiss at Grand Slam level, but the ol’ fist-pumping fight remains strong in the passionate Aussie. Prior to Melbourne, Hewitt had reiterated his desire to clinch another Grand Slam, and we’re sad to see that the 28-year-old will be out until May after undergoing surgery on his right hip. Despite rumours of an impending retirement; he’ll be back for the French Open, more determined than ever to win a third slam. “These days, it’s about trying to prepare as well as possible for the four majors and that’s what I pride myself on now. Trying to win another major; that’s the goal,” Hewitt said in Oz. Good on ya, son. Sixteenth time lucky against Rog?
7) Oh No, Rafa…
Unlike Hewitt, Rafael Nadal was unable to finish his Aussie Open on the court, instead succumbing to a ‘knee tear’ while trailing 3-1 in the final set to Andy Murray. Defeat looked inevitable regardless for the 2009 champion – such was the form of the inspired Scot – but Rafa’s exit was a sad sight. Fortunately, the Spaniard’s injury appears unrelated to the tendinitis that scuppered his 2009 season. But destined for four weeks out, the 23-year-old Mallorcan’s ranking is certain to take a hit. He’s already sunk two places to No.4, and Juan Martin del Potro is hot on his heels…
8) China’s flying, but where are the men?
Li Na and Jie Zheng had terrific runs to the semi-finals in Melbourne, becoming the first Chinese players to make the last four of the Aussie Open. But we’ll stop ourselves going all out and proclaiming that Chinese tennis is on the up. For the simple reason that the men are nowhere to be seen, or asleep, as Li Na puts it. “They’re still sleeping. They didn’t wake up. Someday they will wake up,” said the new world No.10 of her male counterparts.
Shao-Xuan Zeng might not be all that overjoyed to hear that, but as China’s highest ranked male at No.367, imagine what the 28-year-old could do with his eyes open.
9) Nikolay ‘Mr Personality’ Davydenko
He’s still got it. The man who (belatedly) became a tennis celebrity following his on (and off court) antics during his victory at the Barclays ATP World Tour finals in November is clearly enjoying his newfound attention. His golden press room comments this time round included; “I don’t drink so much, because, you see I’m skinny. I mix only. Sometimes I drink clear vodka, sometimes mixed with red bull. Little bit get power in nightclub or disco.” Perhaps Davydenko has more similarities to Marat Safin than first thought…
And just in case we get him confused with any other celebrity, Davydenko assured us; “I am not Paris Hilton.” Good of him to clear that one up…
10) Fashion stakes
If you thought tennis’ fashion faux-pas died a death with Andre Agassi’s denim shorts, you clearly slept your way through this year’s Australian Open. Fernando Verdasco’s criss-cross crisis could have been to blame for his fourth round defeat to Nikolay Davydenko. Maria Sharapova’s audition for the Avatar sequel might have been successful, had her shiny turquoise-blue-green number extended to full body length. And Svetlana Kuznetsova tried out the ‘pirate look’ in shorts and headband, but failed to put the jitters on Nadia Petrova before falling to a fourth round defeat. Arrrrr.
The usual suspects came out well we think; Federer looking as suave as ever in his Nike ensemble, while Andy Murray cut a particularly smooth figure in his new Adidas get-up.
Out of sight out of mind and all that, so perhaps leaving the Fred Perry legacy behind him is the key to ending Britain’s ‘150,000’ year wait for a slam…