Sunday January 24th, 2016

MELBOURNE – The first week of the first major of 2016 has had its share of clouds, both meteorological and metaphorical. A fixing scandal has engulfed the sport. There’s been thunder Down Under….mostly in the form of Nick Kyrgios. There have been sunsets, most notably the retirement of Lleyton Hewitt. And promising dawns, not least the young Australian, Dasha Gavrilova. Mist or missed, as in the case of Novak Djokovic, who won his fourth round match despite committing 100 (!) unforced errors. And for all the upsets at the subcutaneous level, the top contenders remain. Grading on the usual curve, here are our midterm marks from the 2016 Australian Open.

A

The faves

Upsets, upsets everywhere. But, as we submit this, Novak Djokovic (if barely), Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all remain.

Tennis
Australian Open Day 6 Mailbag: Lauren Davis, the riddle of Kyrgios and more

​Lleyton Hewitt

Good-bye to all that.

John Isner

The big man has yet to face a break point this event. But beyond that, he has been returning better than ever. And here he is in the Round of 16.

Germany

For a country without a Grand Slam champ post-Graf, there are two Frauen left as we write this: Angelique Kerber and Annika Beck. And a third, Anna-Lena Friedsam, fought courageously against Aga Radwanska.

Tennis
Isner makes 2nd week at Aussie Open for 1st time since 2010

​Shuai Zheng

The Chinese qualifier—pondering retirement—is still in the draw. She beat Simona Halep and then backed it up.

Daria Gavrilova

Again, at this writing, the young Aussie has been the belle of the ball.

 

B+

Naomi Osaka

Japanese/Haitian teen wins a pair of rounds, and wins over crowds in the process. Pity she couldn’t offer more resistance against Azarenka in round three.

Tennis
Sports gambling consultant Scott Ferguson addresses match-fixing

Nick Kyrgios

We don’t know much more than we did when the tournament started. He is still wildly talented and wildly erratic. But, damn is he fun to watch.

 

B

Fernando Verdasco

On the plus side, he plays the match of his life to beat Rafael Nadal in the first round. On the other hand, in keeping with the maddening rhythms of his careers, he then plays a dog of a second rounder and loses to Dudi Sela.

Mother Nature

On the plus side, temperatures stayed under triple digits. On the other hand, the rain mucked up the schedule a bit and changed court speeds.

Tennis
2016 Australian Open Daily Data Visualizations

​Kristyna Pliskova

On the plus side, the twin sister of Karolina Pliskova broke WTA ace record in her second round match against Monica Puig. On the other hand, she lost the match.

Monica Puig

On the plus side, she withstands 31 aces in her second round match and outlasts Pliskova. On the other hand, she was then handily beaten by Radwanska.

C+

Rafael Nadal

A first-round loss here will intensify the What’s-up-with-Rafa? discussion. Truth is, no one was beating Verdasco the way he played those last two sets.

C

Smoke

You wish there more specifics and a greater sense of size and scope. “Irregular betting” does not, de facto, mean that there’s corruption. We may be dealing with a small subset of players. This will not be the death knell of the sport. But—all those disclaimers out of the way—this is ugly stuff. And to look at the data and still flatly deny the existence of match-fixing is delusional.

Tennis
Mouratoglou believes a slower Nadal has tough challenge ahead

S.S.

Sloane Stephens won a tune-up, arrived in shape to an event that has treated well in the past….and lost her first match to a qualifier. Sam Stosur continued a career-long inability to win the battle with her nerves and lost in round one. (For the record, Sergiy Stakhovsky lost his first round match as well.)

 

Spelling

A few years after this, we had this last week.

Venus Williams

After an inspired return to the Top 10 in the fall, she lost her first match here to Johanna Konta. Venus then bailed on her mandatory post-match press conference, an uncharacteristic lapse in decorum.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.