Wednesday January 28th, 2015

MELBOURNE -- Five thoughts from Day ten at the Australian Open:

• Madison Keys reached her first Grand Slam semifinal with a strange and injury-addled win over Venus Williams, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. The good news: Keys showed fight to match her ferocious power, winning despite an adductor injury. The bad news: with no day off between her semifinal, Keys will be lucky just to get on court tomorrow for her semifinal date against Serena Williams.

Tennis
Madison Keys beats Venus Williams to advance to her first Slam semifinal

• Every now and then, tennis gets it right. Venus Williams’ play this tournament is one of those times. She reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in almost a half-decade this week; and the sport was better for it. Today, though, she came out flatter than a Foxboro football; and never inflated. She moved sluggishly, served poorly, missed dozens of shots and couldn’t take advantage of a hobbled opponent. For four rounds, she looked like a contender to win. On Wednesday, sadly, she did not.

• By contrast, the book on Serena Williams: if you're going to beat her, beat her early in the tournament. No one did and now she has caught a gear, as they say, thoroughly dominating Dominika Cibulkova on Wednesday afternoon. Serena claims to be ill, but her game was in full health today. Oh, and her career record in Grand Slam semifinals? 22-3.

Tennis
Djokovic cruises to semis, Keys makes her first and more Day 10 results

• For a defending champion, Stan Wawrinka has advanced through the draw with remarkable little fanfare. He continued his run with a stellar straight set defeat over Kei Nishikori.

• As I write this, Novak Djokovic is two sets up on Milos Raonic. No one has said anything openly, but you get a distinct sense that the Old Guard—the Big Four plus Wawrinka—isn't quite ready to surrender ground to the next generation of Dimitrov, Nishikori, and Raonic -- and we can add Nick Kyrgios to the list.

Mailbag

Why are the players looking way up in the interviews?  
-- @Jjmulherin

Simple: the interview room here is, perversely, designed like a college lecture hall. The inquiring masses sit above the subject and angle their questions downward. Inasmuch as the players seek to make eye contact with their interrogators, they must look up.

For discussion: Nick Saviano is a “value investor.” He understands the concept of “buy low, sell high.”

Tennis
12 things you should know about 19-year-old American Madison Keys

Not bad. Saviano worked Genie Bouchard last year —a year in which she went from a bright prospect to a bona fide star. He is now with Sloane Stephens, which is akin to owning a stock that shot up and has since corrected. Long as we’re here, I’m curious about another former Saviano, Laura Robson, who is due back on tour soon. Wrist injuries are no joke—that, we know. But Robson turned 21 this week, and there is still plenty of time for potential filling.

The tennis GRE analogy test.
Wawrinka-Nadal in 2014 Australian Open:

A.  Safin-Sampras in 2000 U.S. Open -- a talented player, without the focus/ambition to succeed consistently, who ultimately underachieves

B.  Mauresmo-Henin in 2006 Aussie Open -- a very good, but not great player, who was simply outshone by a bevy of more gifted players in her generation

C:  Johansson-Safin in 2002 Aussie Open -- a good player who caught lightening in a bottle for two weeks, and defeated an opponent who on any other day was more likely have outclassed him
-- Questioner name misplaced by overworked, underorganized Mailbag writer

Well, I feel sheepish answering so long as Wawrinka remains in the tournament. In the event he defends his title, we will come to view his original 2014 title in a different light. But my initial response is “B.”

Thomas Johansson really came out of nowhere. We’re talking about a guy who made only one other Grand Slam semifinal and—even after winning a Slam—never entered the top five.  Wawrinka, by contrast, had just reached the 2013 U.S. Open semis in his previous major and was fifth with the oddsmakers before last year’s event even started.

As for “A” I don’t think of Wawrinka as a talent squanderer; I think of him as a very, very good player in an era the demand greatness.

Does Stan have the most powerful one-handed backhand? Amalgro maybe? Maybe Fed's was too but remember it as more graceful than this
-- @MistrDaniel

We were just talking about this. We can argue over art and stylishness. Eye of the beholder and all that. You say Richard Gasquet. Someone else says Federer or Dimitrov. A reader threw Andrei Pavel’s name out. But for sheer power, we can talk more objectively. I lean toward Wawrinka. He hits over that thing and just crushes the ball.

 

@jon_wertheim what's wrong with Rafa? Did he look off in his prior matches?
-- @jjcruiser

For the most part, yes. Remember, Nadal was perilously close to losing to Tim Smyczek in round two. (Of course he also looked like the Nadal of old in decisive wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Kevin Anderson, both creditable opponents.

Tennis
Tomas Berdych stuns Rafael Nadal in Australian Open quarterfinals

This is both a blessing and curse, but the mores on contemporary prevent players from mentioning injury in defeat. There is something noble and sporting about this. There is also something disingenuous. During Nadal’s match against Berdych he was noticeably, unmistakably at something other than full speed. At one point, a member of his camp dashed off to find some pills that were then handed to Nadal courtside. At another time, he grimaced and pointed to his hip. Before we starting burying Nadal and the never-win-another-Slam buzzards begin circling the carrion, don't discount that he was clearly injured on Tuesday.

Broader point: for each match, there is a balance we all undertake, praising the victor versus dissecting the loser. In the case of Berdych-Nadal, we shouldn't on stint of praise for Berdych. He played authoritative tennis, competed better and kept his nerve in a third-set tiebreaker. But anyone who has watched Nadal, even casually, knows that he was far, far from his best this event.

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