Tuesday January 27th, 2015

MELBOURNE -- Five quick thoughts from Day 9 at the Australian Open:

1. Maybe Rafael Nadal was on to something when he dismissed his chances of winning. Looking listless and lacking in timing, Nadal fell to Tomas Berdych in straight sets. Credit Berdych with a composed performance, thwarting a late Nadal rally.  And credit new coach, Dani Vallverdu, for a gameplan. But what a strange match for the 2009 champ.

Tomas Berdych stuns Rafael Nadal in Australian Open quarterfinals

2. Less than a week ago, Maria Sharapova was a point from elimination—to a qualifier no less. Today, she is four sets from another major trophy. Today Sharapova bested her manqué, Genie Bouchard, 6-3, 6-2.

3. What a strange performance by Simona Halep. The third seed—known for her industrious professionalism—not only lost Ekaterina Makarova, 6-4, 6-0, but projected a resigned indifference late in the match.

4. The biggest upset of the tournament thus far? Easy. And it has nothing to do with Nadal or Federer. For the fourth time in five majors, the Bryans lost, this time to 14th-seeded Dominic Inglot of Britain and Florin Mergea.  

5. As I write this, we await the result of Nick Kyrgios versus Andy Murray. The day session had the ring of a three-part warm-up act – more on this match later.


My wife and I are planning to go to our first Grand Slam next year, starting with the Australian Open. What round of play would be the best to go view, assuming we will only have one day on the grounds? I was currently leaning towards seeing the QF or round 4.
-- Karl Strength

American women, Azarenka, Smyczek lead 2015 AusOpen midterm grades

It all depends on your “tennis values.” But I would go as early in the tournament as possible. You’ll see more matches and players; you’ll get a better sense of the grounds; there will be more energy. From where I sit/stand/kneel, tournaments tend to sag in the middle rounds. You miss the excitement of the first few rounds but lack the gravitas and pomp of the semis and finals. Imagine if you had a ticket today. The big singles matches were only on one court, Laver. Makarova ran roughshod over Halep. Sharapova ran roughshod over Bouchard. Berdych took it to Nadal. Meh.

First off, let me say that I greatly enjoy your columns for Sports Illustrated. Keep it up! My question is short and sweet: When someone wins a Slam, their name is engraved on the trophy. What happens when room on the trophy runs out? Do they get a new one and start over?

-- Luc

Hat tip to Sharko, here’s the response from the French: “At this day, there is still some room available on every cup (Musketeers, Suzanne Lenglen…).
When there will be no room anymore, then a second base will be added, just like for the Davis Cup trophy.”

Here’s Wimbledon: “We had this situation relatively recently with the Men’s singles trophy, so we created a base/plinth for it and that’s where the names are now being engraved. I imagine something similar would be done for the Ladies if and when we got to that stage, although the design of the dish would possibly make that more difficult, so a different solution may have to be found.”

Question on top of all those other questions about Federer’s loss: Does anyone think it might have been easier to watch him lose to journeyman Seppi and call it a bad day at the office than it would have been to see him get through that the same way he got through Bolelli and then face the threat of Kyrgios on home turf, one round later? Michael thinks maybe so.

-- Michael D., San Diego

Mailbag: Analyzing Federer's early AusOpen loss to No. 46 Seppi

I love the third person. The thesis, I love less. Federer’s loss to Seppi was deeply disappointing—all the more so when Seppi retreated against Kyrgios. (One takeaway: no way does Federer lose that match, if only he had pulled out the fourth set tiebreaker and pushed in to a fifth set.) If Federer loses to Kyrgios, it’s easy to rationalize. “Hey, the kid is going to win a Slam one day. I had already won majors when they took the pudgy photo. He had the energy of the crowd. Plus this is good for tennis and the next generation.” That (hypothetical) loss is easy to rationalize in a way a defeat to Seppi, a peer and lesser player, isn’t.

Hey, looking good in Australia. It is so funny that Nadal is espousing the good sportsmanship of his round two opponent in light of Nadal's gamesmanship and lack of sportsmanship: on court coaching, breaking opponents rhythm before matches by delaying match start by sitting in his chair; and taking too long between points. I doubt he'd have been so effusive if he'd have lost the do over point and ultimately the match. What say you?
-- Scott S.

It’s funny, sportsmanship and respect for combat are such pillars of the Nadal narrative. When Nadal’s fans talk about the player, the word “honor” is in heavy rotation. When his critics explain their dislike, they often point to the gamesmanship.

My take? At heart, Nadal is good guy, honorable even. But his “habits/routines” have morphed into something more profound. He doesn’t intend it as gamesmanship. But the various “rituals,” as they are benignly called—the water-bottle futzing and the routines when serving—have the effect of disrupting the opponent.

We seem to have been "volleying" back and forth with regard to which draw has played more true to form. Certainly it felt to me that the woman's draw has been more in exercise in chaos, while the second round results seem to have discouraged that as evidenced by the e-mail you published. But now that we have the quarterfinals set, let's take another look at it:

Women's Draw - 4 of the top 8 seeds, 3 double-digit seeds, 1 unseeded

Men's Draw - 7 of the top 8 seeds, 1 unseeded

Also, if I go back to the days when only the top 16 were seeded - the second round results look a bit different. (Yes, I also know the draw would have been different, but just for comparison purposes):

Women's Draw - 9 of the top 16 made it through

Men's Draw - 12 of the top 16 made it through

More food for thought, since as they say - "you can make statistics to say whatever you would like."
-- Mike O., Dearborn, MI

Mailbag: Can young ATP, WTA stars come of age in Melbourne?

What was it Henry Clay said? Oh, right. “Statistics are not a substitute for judgment.” As I write this, only Federer and Nadal have been eliminated, and before Tuesday's play, only one of eight men’s seeds was eliminated. And most of the chalk remains on the women’s side as well, with Venus Williams—ahem—upsetting Aga Radwanska being the biggest disruption. We can reassess after the draw, but, after the rash of early mini-upsets, they have both been quite true to form.

Do you have something against Eugenie Bouchard? You never mention her (except for Twirlgate). In a mailbag about young stars her name isn't there. In answering a question about who might win a Slam this year you name everyone on the list except her. In your midterm grades she is absent. But here she is in the quarterfinals of a slam - again. What gives?
-- Claire from Ottawa (yes, a Canadian!)

In fairness to Claire, this was sent before Tuesday's result. There’s a lot to like about Bouchard, her game, her ascent and her—cliché alert—upside. Credit her for reaching the quarters here—living up to her living—despite coming to Melbourne with neither a full-time coach nor much in the way of momentum.

Her match against Sharapova exposed her need for a full-time coach. There was little apparent strategy and her aggression when returning Sharapova’s first serves but passivity returning the second serves was peculiar. I was told that she is actively seeking an aide-de-camp and at least four coaches essentially auditioned and interviewed with her in Florida. So that’s a good sign.

Shots, miscellany:

Venus advances to first Slam QF since 2010, more big winners on Day 8

Jamie Murray lashes out at the LTA.

• Nigel writes: It was an interesting question on the suspensions, but perhaps a more note-worthy angle from a competitive perspective is the research from 2014 indicating that the positive benefits from performance enhancing drugs linger for much longer than previously thought. 

See the research explained here and here. And see the original study here. Just a different point of view on the PED issue in tennis.

• Press releasing: The ITF announced that it has renewed its sponsorship agreement with NEC Corporation as title sponsor of the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and as an Official Partner of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour through 2017.

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