We speak often of "statement wins," victories that enable players to advance in the draw and raise some eyebrows at the same time. These declarations come in a variety of ways.
It could be a young, hyped player outlasting an opponent in five sets, as Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov and Donald Young each did at the Australian Open on Monday -- a suggestion that their fitness and maturity might be catching up with their gifts.
It might be an often-injured player winning a match and announcing that he's healthy again. The oldest player in the men's draw, Tommy Haas -- once a top-five player before spending extended stints on tennis' disabled list -- won his first match and announced, "I'm not done yet."
Sorana Cirstea, a promising talent not long ago, dropped Sam Stosur -- the local favorite and the U.S. Open champion -- and sent the message, "Don't give up on my potential just quite yet."
But for pure statements, few spoke louder than Maria Sharapova did on Tuesday. Sharapova is a former champ in Melbourne (2008), a former No. 1 player and the No. 4 seed. She
The conventional wisdom is that Sharapova is deep in the back nine of her career. That the field has caught up. That over the course of seven matches, eventually the yips will infect her serve. That her "make every shot a power shot" game, low as it is on tactics and versatility, will bite her.
Any and all of that may happen. But the 24-year-old Sharapova sure looked like a world-beater on Tuesday in her first match of the year. Sharapova drew Gisela Dulko, a notoriously dangerous and streaky player, who's beaten most of the top guns, including Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2009. And in roughly the time it will take for you to read this sentence, Sharapova administered a brutal thrashing, winning 6-0, 6-1.
This was vintage Sharapova, dictating points, ruthlessly pushing her opponent around the court, pounding her returns, minimizing her serving issues. (She can live with five double faults and three aces spread over seven games if she's striking the ball this cleanly.) She's healthy. She's in a good head space.
"I've been on the Tour for many years, played enough tournaments, I just want to be as ready as I can for the big ones," she said after the match.
Again and again, Sharapova has asserted that she doesn't mind flying under the proverbial radar, no longer top-of-mind in the tennis conversations. Be that as it may, Sharapova's results didn't speak for themselves on Tuesday. They screamed.
• Did you sing "Don't wanna be an Austrian idiot" after Daniel Koellerer was banned for alleged match-fixing, among other breaches of decorum? Did you sing "Don't wanna be an Argentine idiot" after Mariano Puerta, Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Canas and Guillermo Coria faced anti-doping sanctions last decade? Love (or hate, if you must) the player; leave the country code out of it.
• In Federer's defense: True, he was blessed by the genetic gods. True, his game is conducive to pounding -- especially compared to the toil and trouble of Nadal. But let's give Federer some credit for maintenance (i.e. professionalism) here. He picks his events judiciously. He trains consistently. He travels with a staff tasked with minimizing injury. (The others do, too, of course.) It can't only be good fortune that the guy has never missed significant time with an injury.
• Hey, it's Idaho. Since two of you asked, let's be clear: That link was sent to me by the realtor. Never would I publicize someone's residence without consent. Also, this just in:
• What some people will do to get out of work ... (Congrats to the House of Davenport-Leach.)
• And quickly! Seriously -- adverb! -- we give Gilbert grief from time to time, but let the record reflect that he does a great job. He's engaging, he's enthusiastic, he's creative in his way. For however comical his sports analogies and cliches sometimes get, I think he does a real service reminding viewers that tennis is a hardcore sport, not a country club pastime.
• Well played! Your question, why, it's like the interrogative equivalent of Gary Sobers' six sixes in a single over.
• And don't forget to tip your server. (Your last line reminded me of the joke: "Oh, mom, you're serving wienerschnitzel again?" he asked revealingly.)
• Stumped me. Anyone want to take a stab here?
• Today's encounter with a pro:
• Always enjoy
• Mike Reed of Pittsburgh: "One follow-up to Jill Craybas' story: Don't forget that she also played college tennis at University of Florida, unlike many other pros. Go Gators!"
• From USTA Serves: Charitybuzz.com is auctioning off two tickets to the day session of the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Australian Open. Bidding is open through Thursday
• John of Greenville, S.C.: "Did you realize that the past eight Auckland winners have gone on to have career years: David Ferrer (career-best year in 2011), John Isner (best year up to that point), Juan Martin del Potro (best year so far in 2009), Philipp Kohlschreiber (career-best year in 2008), Ferrer (finishes 2007 No. 5, his best year up to that point) and Jarkko Nieminen, Fernando Gonzalez and Dominik Hrbaty (best years in 2006, 2005 and 2004, respectively). It was not the case between 2001-2003 (Gustavo Kuerten, Greg Rusedski and Hrbaty) but it was earlier when Magnus Norman had a career year in 2000, Sjeng Schalken had a personal-best year at that stage of his career in 1999, and Marcelo Rios' best was 1998. That's 11 out of the past 14 years. We should keep a close eye on this week's Auckland champ, Ferrer, throughout the remainder of 2012. Odds are he's on his way to his best year so far."
• Marlene Sherlock of Glen Allen, Va.: "Here's an anti-anti-grunting rant from Homer Simpson (sorry I can't find a YouTube clip of it but you'll