Australian Open: Post-Tournament Assessment
Roger Federer: We’re a month into the new decade, a month into the new tennis season, and it already feels like the same old crap, different year. I legitimately needed a day to digest Federer’s 16th major title and 4th at the Australian Open. Who saw that one coming? More or less, everyone. After the Aussie Open last year, I was pretty devastated when Federer lost in another 5-set epic toRafael Nadal. Since he’s merely extending his slam record, I’m at a loss for words. Everyone is talking about the depth of the field and all the talent and the up and comers and Nadal and Murray and Cilic and this guy and that guy.
Until Federer stops reaching slam finals on consistent basis, I don’t think it’s ever safe to bet against him. He is on a whole different playing field and tennis fans of whichever player are going to have to accept that. All we can do is enjoy his tennis and hope that he stops winning everything some day. Just think, if he hadn’t lost focus against Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open final, he’d hold all 4 slam simultaneously for the first time in his career… is that what people call a decline nowadays?
Before I move on from the world number 1, I’d like to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with Federer’s speech during the ceremony. “I can cry like Roger,” Murray said. “It’s just a shame I can’t play like him.” How many players do you think nodded their heads when they heard this? This is easily the quote of the Federer Era. In an attempt to comfort Murray, all we got from Federer was, “You’re too good of a player not to win a Grand Slam, so don’t worry about it.” Not that this sounds bad coming from a guy who’s won 16 slams, but I was hoping to see more.
Plenty of fans felt like Federer-Murray matches don’t have that special extra something that Federer-Nadal matches have. This is true on and off the court. On the court it’s the result of having played so many important finals, you can’t help but carry around that special something, but the way Nadal draped his arm around Federer to comfort him, that goes beyond simlpy playing a great match. I was hoping to see something like that from Federer but instead he rambled on about how happy and perfect his life is. Way to rub it in, Rog.
The Rest: Before we had to watch the exact same outcome we’ve been seeing for over six years, this year’s Australian Open was pretty exciting. This event usually is but this year’s was a little more interesting since the majority of the tennis world was convinced there is too much parity to predict a winner. The Australian Open has a tendency to have a surprise finalist/semifinalist.
Perhaps breakthrough is a better word than surprise this year. Andy Murray and Marin Cilic were both first time semifinalists and Murray was a first time finalist. To me, this still wasn’t even close to as surprising as Fernando Verdasco or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s results. Cilic was pegged as a dark horse since reaching the US Open quarterfinals and he showed absolutely awesome grit in getting to the semifinals. With the passivity of Murray’s game, I can’t help but think Cilic would’ve been in the final if he hadn’t run out of gas. Either way, credit to him for going down swinging.
Before I talk about Murray, I want to say a few words about the other men who made the second week of the Aussie Open. First, Ivo Karlovic made some great luck for himself in somehow reaching the fourth round, and he even expanded on that luck by hitting a bunch of let cords to break Nadal and get a set off him. The other giant, John Isner, played some great tennis to beat Gael Monfils but couldn’t hold his nerve against Murray and fell apart at the end. Karlovic’s result is borderline irrelavent in the grand scheme of things but Isner should be pleased and eager to continue improving.
Gonzalez tends to play some of his best stuff in Oz having been a finalist in 2007 and beating Richard Gasquet in an epic 5-setter last year. He did a great job of recovering from a 5-setter in the third round to really take it to Andy Roddick. But a bunch of bad calls really got into his head and Roddick’s serve turned out to be too much for the Chilean to handle. Roddick apparently started feeling pain in his shoulder after that match which caused him some serious problems in a 5-set loss to Cilic in the quarterfinals. He fought hard but Cilic was too tough and playing too well.
Speaking of Cilic, my favorite match of this tournament was his epic win over Del Potro. A 5-set power-fest that really showed what these guys are made of, and they’re made of a lot. They have more finesse than they’re given credit for but Cilic was the better mover and less antsy guy on the day. Like I said, I think he would’ve been in the final if he hadn’t played 22 sets heading into the semifinals.
The top half of the draw didn’t have as many interesting matches. I don’t remember who Novak Djokovic and Tsonga beat, Lleyton Hewitt should start considering retirment, and Nikolay Davydenko redefined winning ugly after Verdasco double faulted a mere 20 times in a 5-set loss. The quarterfinals were rather disappointing from a quality stand point. Davydenko really took it to Federer before the Swiss master dominated for over two sets. And Djokovic had the runs.
To me, Tsonga was the disappointment of the week. After trash talking Djokovic, he played up his chances against Federer only to come out and give up after three games. It’s funny because before the match he mentioned how the French players are known to be mentally weak but he’s an exception…
The final was really overhyped only because the straight set result went against 99.9999% of all predictions. I said I’d respect Murray if he went down swinging, and he did. I was really pulling for him to take the third set and it was a shame he couldn’t close it out, but he really sealed his own fate by being so defensive. I know Murray fans are probably sick of hearing this and I was too until Patrick McEnroe went extra lengths to point it out.
I don’t remember when McEnroe did this, but at one point during a change over, he replayed a point where after a rally Murray got a short ball. He paused the tape to emphasize both players’ positions. Federer was well behind the baseline whereas Murray was inside the baseline. The ball was short and Murray was about to hit a backhand, his best shot. Personally, I think he should’ve gone up the line but either direction would’ve worked as long as he hit it deep and with some pace. When the tape played, you watched Murray spin the ball short and into the middle of the court. I was flabberghasted. Murray really needs to work on that if he wants to win a slam. That and his serve.
A quick Federer mention; he was hitting his backhand better than I’ve seen in a long time and I think that gave him a lot of confidence from the very beginning of the match.
I can’t write about a slam and not mention Nadal. There’s not much to say except for I really hope he gets better and starts playing his best again. I’m not his biggest fan but tennis needs him and so does Federer. After such a dominant performance, Federer’s aura is going to slowly creep back. Nadal is the only one who can keep him in check (not that I want him to keep beating Federer). Aside from that, you really gotta feel for the guy. To have such serious injuries when you’re so young, it’s not easy no matter how successful you are. As much as I wanted Djokovic to be number 2, it seems really unfair that Nadal can’t even put up a fight.
Overall, it was a really good tournament for some players (Murray and Cilic) and really bad for others (Nadal and Roddick). Hopefully all the injuries heal in time for the Masters in March and those that might be mentally weak right now step their games up and start smacking winners and aces (I’m looking at you, Novak). And just to clarify, before the start of the tournament, the best player in the world and the number 1 player in the world were two different people. As of right now, there’s no disputing that Roger Federer is easily both.
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