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Clijsters' comeback, Djokovic's domination, more on Aussie Open

Flotsam and jetsam from the 2011 Australian Open.

• It's what's starting to rank among the most successful comebacks in all of sports, Kim Clijsters wins the women's title, her third Major since the fall of 2009. Finally, some order is emerging from the WTA chaos. And to think: she was once a player chided for her absence of fight. This title was a testament to mental skills as well as peerless ballstriking. A few games from losing the final, Clijsters simply wouldn't succumb.

• Talking about winning a Slam honestly. Novak Djokovic won the men's title, playing a level of tennis that made it easy to forget there were other two guys who were somehow ranked ahead of him. In the "business end" of the end he played six sets of tennis against Roger Federer and then Andy Murray and somehow made it look like an exhibition.

• Some consolation for Murray: in the Open Era, three men have lost their first three Grand Slam finals. 1) Andre Agassi 2) Ivan Lendl 3) Goran Ivanisevic. More consolation for Murray: No one was beating Djokovic the way he played.

• What a terrific event for Li Na, who reached the finals and was leading a set and 3-2 before the clock struck. She's almost 29, but may we see more of her in the years to come.

• There will be no Rafa Slam, at least not this year, as he lost in the quarters after suffering a leg injury. His style of tennis and competitive philosophy lends itself to winning. It does not, sadly, lend itself to longevity.

• Let's keep Roger Federer's loss in perspective. Is he in decline? Empirically, yes, especially given the ridiculously high standards he set for himself. It's not just that he hasn't won a Major in more than a year; he hasn't even reached a Major final. He can play terrifically in spots, but the consistency is fading, as is his ability to blow through seven straight matches. Is he done winning Slams? I don't know how you could say that. Barely two months ago, he sure looked like the Fed of old. How about this: He's a contender until the day he retires. He's no longer the favorite.

• This is the dual version of the Federer semifinal streak, getting so much attention once it ends. But let's pause to reflect on the fact that since February of 2006, only three Majors have been claimed by players other than "Feder-al."

• Does Caroline Wozniacki recall this tournament for her charm offensive and her winning press conferences? Or for failing in the semifinals, casting still more doubt on the legitimacy of her top ranking? Maybe defense doesn't win championships. In a three-set, three-hour match against Li Na, Wozniacki hit just 10 winners. There's a lot to like about her game. But it's hard to see a player so lacking in weaponry winning a Slam.

• That said, what a fine tournament for the women, who, for the first time in years, may have provided the stronger narrative. First, the style of play was more variegated than normal. And from Li to Andrea Petkovic to Clijsters to Wozniacki, a number of players distinguished themselves on and off the court. If this is the post-Williams, post-Henin world, perhaps it's not so grim after all.

• Neither David Ferrer nor Vera Zvonareva are likely ever to win a Major, undersized as they are and lacking in big shots. But if I'm a teaching pro or a junior coach I point to them as players to emulate. They do everything in their power to win, not least getting themselves in better shape than anyone in tennis. If the reward is a top-10 ranking, the odd Grand Slam semi appearance and a seven-figure salary, it's well-deserved.

• The Bryans, Bob and Mike, won the doubles title. Enjoy these guys while you can. Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta won the women's.

• The most dominant figure in tennis history, Esther Vergeeer, won the women's wheelchair event, taking the final 6-0, 6-0. When's the documentary?

• A few months ago, I spent some time with Yao Ming in Houston, and I talked to a sports marketer who complained about the paucity of other Chinese athletes with "crossover" potential, that is, who have both the athletic chops and charisma to go global. Without further ado: A tattooed, acerbic, hilariously funny Chinese woman, so assertive she proposed to her husband and then mocks him (lovingly) at every chance -- who's also a top-five tennis player.

• A moment of silence for the passing of Justine Henin's career. She retired last week -- this time, one strongly suspects, for good. Henin was a complex player, a complex person and -- Serena Williams notwithstanding -- perhaps the most influential WTA grandee of the last decade. Hall of Fame, here she comes.

• We had a quite a Twitter war over this. (Note to Henin: do not question the passion of your fans.) But I still say it's in questionable taste to announce an unexpected retirement (a re-retirement, in this case) during the last few days of a Major. My son likes The Lighting Thief. This was Thunder Stealing. Then again, it was very much in keeping with her m.o. She did things her way, without much mind for convention or politesse. Wish her well in her next set.

• There were no women from a "Slam-hosting country" in the round of 16. And the only two males were Andys, Murray and Roddick. Riches corrupt? Discuss.

• Alex Dogopolov has this beguiling mix of flair and minimalism. A likeable kid with a likeable game. Now get him some media training, stat! He has the makings of a top tenner for years to come.

• The other breakout player on the men's side was Milos (La Bat) Raonic, the hard-serving Canadian who reached Round 4. The aces were impressive. But so is the maturity. Read this, for instance. Lots to like here.

• Not sure what to make of Petra Kvitova. A fine performance reaching Week Two for the second time in three Majors. But I see big ball striking, a lefty look and not much else.

• One of you had a great line about Venus Williams' dress: "Look at it this way. She doesn't have to worry about anyone else showing up in the same attire."

• The Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of tennis (you can decide who's who), Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi brokered a tentative peace and launched a reunion tour. Their run to the final included a near brawl with a Spanish team, a dispute over the intellectual property of the word "vamos," the sharing of a towel (perhaps because Federer stole them all) and tacit acknowledgements that, endowed with the wisdom of age, they ended their partnership too soon. I see a Bollywood screenplay coming.

• Speaking of shaky efforts, Ernests Gulbis flames out early. As a Twitter follower duly noted, "No more complaining about the WTA rankings when Gulbis hasn't won a match at the last six Majors and is No. 23."

• As far as disappointments in the women's draw, lots to chose from, not least the former No.1s Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, all of whom were dispatched early -- in Safina's case, by the humiliating score, 6-0, 6-0. But what about Sam Stosur who, it seems, hasn't been the same player since losing the French Open final?

• What a performance by Francesca Schiavone. Some of us (self included) thought she'd pull an Andres Gomez and disappear after the late-career highlight of winning the French. Yet she's still going, riding her delightful game to the threshold of the top five.

• Seeded 23rd, the winsome Svetlana Kuznetsova remarked: 'The first thing it makes me think of is Michael Jordan." If that was a stretch, she did herself proud in the match of the tournament, a near five-hour classic against Schiavone. Kuznetsova blinked first. Still, expect big things from her this year. She's in shape, motivated and still among the better athletes going.

• We all owe a collective danke schoen to Andrea Petkorazzi for helping make tennis entertaining. It's a personal decision, but I suspect more athletes could benefit from the Petkovic approach and realize that when they have fun with their craft, their performance ultimately benefits. And a few weeks ago, we speculated on how her victory dance routines were going over in the WTA locker room. After advancing past Venus in that unfortunate 6-minute retirement match, Pam Shriver asked Petkovic to offer a funny routine. Petko explained that there was nothing funny about the moment. What's the German word for "class?"

• Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. How about the bloke who put down $1 million on Rafael Nadal to beat David Ferrer. Oops. Had Nadal won, the payoff would have been $100,000. Pity the guy, but I like stories like this inasmuch as they dissuade folks from betting on tennis!

• We have unconfirmed reports that officials from Guantanamo have audio files of the Franklin Templeton jingle being used for extracting intelligence from suspected terrorists. "OK, we'll tell you everything. Just don't start with that Longines it's-time-to-give-a-little-of-yourself piano tinkling."

• Moles in New Haven tell us that Amy Chua's kids play tennis, but she does not bring her "Tiger Mom" sensibilities to bear when they are on the court.

• An early candidate for best video of the year: Aggie Radwanska flies off the handle (credit goes to awesome reader Stewbop on that one). This clip saved her, though. Otherwise we'd be talking about a highly suspect injury -- "dubious" as one tennis mother might put it -- "time-out" that helped her win that match over Kimiko Date Krumm.

• Until Maria Sharapova can fix her serve -- or, not coincidentally, her shoulder -- it's hard to see her advancing to the "business end" of Majors. We've said before that the serve is the ultimate foundation for a player's entire game. You can't serve so erratically and expect to win seven matches. (Speaking of Sharapova, perhaps she'll now show her face at a Nets game. Her fiancé, Sasha Vujacic, is getting some minutes as the team's backup swingman. Sharapova, though, isn't even the Nets' most significant other. Kris Humphries is, of course, the boyfriend of Kim K.)

• That said, if you don't have the "support system" to back a big serve, you're not going far either. Here we trot out Roddick, who fell in Round 4 to Stan Wawrinka.

• When Tennis Channel aired Wozniacki's third-round victory at the Australian Open, announcer Bill Macatee fielded a text message from a "Chris in Florida" who wondered if the top-ranked Danish player "feels like the No. 1 player in the world, never having won a Grand Slam?" Lindsay Davenport asked, "That wouldn't be the Chris from Florida who is a Grand Slam winner herself, would it?" It turns out it was former No. 1 Chris Evert, who was watching the match on television.

• Back to Li Na, we bring in Bob K. of Washington, D.C.: "Jon, now that Na Li (Li, Na) made the finals and with any luck will become a household name across the globe, can we just get the tennis cognoscenti and media to agree on how to say and display her name? Her first name is Na. Her surname is Li. Period. Yes, people in Asia say the last name first, but YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS IN ENGLISH, ESPN2, you don't write "Li Na" in the score box under "Wozniacki" -- it's just "Li," unless you want to write "Wozniacki Caroline" as well. Broadcasters, you don't have to say "Li Na" every time you say her name -- it's just "Li" (or "Na" if you're referring to players by their first name). And, for godsakes, if you ARE going to say her last name first out of some weird respect to the Asian way of referring to each other (even though you are Westerners speaking to a Western audience), please at least be consistent: I don't hear many people saying or printing Date-Krumm Kimiko, Sugiyama Ai or Lee Hyung-taik, and yet the same principles apply. Thank you!"

• Nice show from Bernard Tomic, the young Australian who appears to be growing up and growing upwards in equal measure. One former player tells us that a lot of his success will be based on whether he can keep his dad under wraps.

• Some homework for all aspiring sports psychologists. Please read this transcript from Dinara Safina.

• As a first-round loser (to Nadal) Marcos Daniel received $20,000. And he did not hit a winner. Greg Couch was right; ESPN was wrong. We're talking about a thirtysomething journeyman who has the chance of his career, a date with Nadal on the show court. Don't begrudge him that opportunity.

• Not exactly a banner event for American men. John Isner has some guts -- we learned at Wimbledon -- but still needs to work harder physically. Sam Querrey has made strides physically but needs a big upgrade in the fight department. (We'll give Mardy Fish a pass.) Here's the ugly truth about pro tennis. You can earn some points and some cash winning the garden-variety events. But reputations are made at the Majors.

• If Wozniacki served up the best press conference of the tournament, this might rank a close second.

• Nice to see Nicolas Mahut qualify, reach the second round and pick up $32,000. Time for the French Federation to step up with the Roland Garros wild card.

• Michel of Beirut notes: "Right after defeating Anastasia Sevastova in the 4th round, Caroline Wozniacki was signing autographs as usual on over-sized tennis balls, pieces of paper...and then the coolest thing happened, a kid dangled his iPad which Caroline promptly signed (with her finger) without flinching before moving on to more traditional autographs."

• If that's a sign of the times, here's a sign of the apocalypse: (Thanks, Mike Oelrich of Fairfax, Va., for the tip.)

• Don of London called our attention to the new "pointstream" system shown on the Australian Open website.

• An astute reader noted that when ESPN2 went to a commercial break at 14-13 in the exhausting third set of the Schiavone/Kuznetsova match, the next words we heard were the opening of a Hoverround commercial: "Do you have a hard time walking...?"

• I feel like we devoted an awful lot of time throughout the week to dissecting ESPN's coverage. For all your gripes about ugly American nicknames, undisclosed conflicts on interest, the absence of Mary Carillo, can we agree that we're lucky to have a network devoting so many hours to live coverage?

• The usual full disclosure that from time to time I do some work for the network, but I thought it was another strong event from Tennis Channel in general, and Martina Navratilova in particular. A nod, too, to Joel Drucker, both for his deft work behind the scenes and his ability to treat the imposters of triumph and disaster with commensurate dignity.

• Is there a weirder juxtaposition than Aussie Open tennis and the "night exchange" adult-talk commercials that run in some markets during the ESPN telecasts? I'm thinking there's not a lot of overlap in that consumer Venn diagram. "Hey, baby, what are you doing tonight?" "Um, not much. Seeing if Dolgopolov can consolidate a break of serve." Click.

• I also like the "night exchange" ad followed by the Viagra ad. Make up your minds, would ya? Are tennis fans sufficiently sexually charged that we require "hot talk, real people" during changeovers? Or are we libidinally challenged?

• Pat McEnroe, always straight a shooter, took a few shots at Roddick. "Bush league, and Andy knows it," was the charge after Roddick went headhunting after Robin Haase. P-Mac is damned either way. Accused of being a Roddick slurpee or disloyal to the player who led him to Davis Cup success. Credit P-Mac with serving the viewer and giving his unfiltered views.

• We eagerly await the upcoming McEnroe-Borg documentary scheduled to air on HBO. Almost as much as we await Matt Cronin's forthcoming book on the rivalry.

• If you had to put the over-under on hours of tennis Serena Williams watched last week what would you say? May she return soon.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is co-author of the new book "Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won."


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