For 127 players in each draw, there is a mountain to ascend. Some can see the summit. Some have been there before. For others, the top is further away, barely in focus. But the GPS makes it clear: the intended destination is up.
For one player in each draw—and one player only— the trajectory is different. For the No.1 seed, by definition, they’re at the top already. They’ve ridden the elevator to the highest floor and achieved maximum altitude.
At this event we speak of Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic. It’s not often we pity the top players, but consider them here. While everyone seeks to ascend, for them, in Melbourne, it’s simply about remaining flat. Stasis. Holding serve, so to speak.
You hear it often: “Getting to the top is one thing; staying there is something else entirely.” It’s easy to the truth in that. At the top, the perspective is different in more ways than one: Win and you simply fulfill expectation. Lose and it's an upset, a failure to meet what (numerically anyway) was predicted of you before the tournament. If Djokovic fails to win, we will ponder what has befallen the guy who was once won this event three straight times; we will question the legitimacy of his top ranking. If Serena falters, we will point out that she is 33 and has only won one of the last five majors—and no title here since 2010.
Serena and Djokovic are both in action on Saturday, as she tries to win a sixth Australian Open, he tries to win a fifth, and they both try to live up to their advance billing. Maybe their perspective should be this: you’re not defending your esteemed status. You're just trying win. And when you do win, you know this: your position might not have changed and your ranking might not be going up. But you still managed to elevate yourself.
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Caroline Wozniacki is the best player to never win a slam, and it ain't close.
• It depends on how you interpret the concept. Are we talking about the most accomplished player never to have won? Or are we talking the player this moment most likely to break through?
Given current form, I would say Simona Halep. Wozniacki is a former No. 1 and has been at it longer (same, by the way, for Jelena Jankovic) but right now Halep’s game is at a higher level.
The other day commentators were discussing Sharapova's grunting and they said that the WTA CEO stated that hardly any players complain to her except for Sabine Lisicki. I find this very irritating because I’m sure she doesn't take into account your mailbag which I am sure is loaded with complaints from readers like me.
-- Eric Bukzin, Manorville, NY
• The WTA should just play it straight: “We are not willing to compromise our relationship with top players and ask them to refrain from grunting.” It would not only be honest; it would be thoroughly reasonable. On the other hand, asserting that the players don’t mind, not only treads the baseline between disingenuous and mendacious; it ignores the fan (i.e. the folks who ultimately pay the bills.)
What would be the equivalent of #DeflateGate in tennis? Using illegal strings? Shuffling in some high altitude balls?
• I would say spaghetti strings but those were obvious to the naked eye. Maybe putting an artificial substance on your racket?
I'm amazed that you picked a team to win the tournament that is not even playing in it. I'm more amazed that you didn't correct the report after I commented on it. Do your interns not read the comments on your posts?
-- Mary Bellamy
• Hingis and Pennetta. Hingis and Pennetta. Hingis and Pennetta. Hingis and Pennetta. Hingis and Pennetta.
Feliciano Lopez won two matches in a row despite being down match point in each. Has anyone ever done it three times in a row? More?
-- Richard, New York, NY
• Sharko! While we look that up, spare a thought here for Denis Kudla. The young America was a point (on serve; multiple times) from defeating Feliciano Lopez in round one. In round two, Lopez advanced when his opponent squandered a match point and then retired on account of injury.
Who among these players do you think will win a Grand Slam this year: Radwanska, Ivanovic, Halep, Bouchard, Wozniacki or Venus?
• Between Serena, Sharapova and Kvitova, I’m not sure ANY new players breakthrough. And winning these majors can be so fluky. A few favorable match-ups, a few lucky breaks in the draw make all the difference. But among the names you give me I would say: Halep, Venus (Wimbledon), Radwanska, Woziacki and Ivanovic.
Can the press stop crediting Vika's fluorescent outfit for her aggressive attitude/win against Caro? It is demeaning to women. Nobody says Federer won his match because he wore red shoes. This is not Hunger Games!
• I credit the Flying J. trucker cap:
Five quick thoughts from Day Five:
1. Nice win for Grigor Dimitrov, holding off Marcos Baghdatis in what might best be called a “spirited environment.” But you wish he didn’t have to go five sets in the middle of the afternoon, this early in the tournament.
2. Yanina Wickmayer (Wickmayer!) into week two with a very solid win over Sara Errani.
3. As much as the tennis world likes to blame the USTA for everything from climate change to the unsteady Eurozone, note that—at a time of relentless globalization—six of the 16 players in the top half of the women’s draw are American.
4. Spare a thought for Jack Sock and family:
5. Nice to see Thomas Johansson, the 2002 champ, in Melbourne. Not as a coach or commentator, but working for H&M, the Swedish apparel company that works with Tomas Berdych.
• A reader notes: "It's not a tournament until Tomas Berdych plays Kevin Anderson.” We’re getting there…
• Changeover reading, check out David Wheaton’s new book by Tennis Channel’s Steve Flink.
• Steve Wilkinson, longtime men’s tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College and founder of Tennis and Life Camps, passed away on January 21 at the age of 73 after courageously living with cancer for nearly seven years.