Post-Australian Open Mailbag: Assessing performances in Melbourne
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Speed round….Some jetlagged, post-Australia Q/A.
As you're nursing a post-Aus Open hangover: "Are we OFFICIALLY in the Djoker-Era"?
• Yes, and it's feeling like Federer 2006. He’s fast turning the rest of the competition into a personal chew toy. So much so you’re inclined to take him against the field.
Apart from the obvious reverence for Djokovic, you know who I am respecting a lot these days? Rafael Nadal. Looking back, in around 2007, he basically took inventory of Federer at the peak of his powers and decided, “I am going to extend my mastery of this guy on clay to other surfaces; and then I will try to construct an all-out takedown. I will not settle for ‘Roger is too good.’ I want to be No.1.”
My stat of the day: there is no player younger than Djokovic who has won a Masters 1000 title. (And the only younger Slam winner is Juan Martin del Potro.) Who’s the challenger to Djokovic on the horizon? Who’s the up-and-comer who makes like Nadal and says, “I’m coming after you, hombre”? I think a big part of the reason the Djokovic-as-GOAT speculation has accelerated is because of a creeping realization that there are no obvious challengers in the rearview mirror right now.
This one goes to eleven? Not Djokovic. You have a feeling there are many more majors to come.
My take on Serena's big smiles and near giddiness after the women's final: "Yay, no Grand Slam pressure this year!!!" and "Yay, finally, an opponent who can challenge me—which will just help me become an even better player!!"
• Helen, by the way, has, like, diamond medallion status here, so she always gets the available upgrades.
Interesting theory, but I think Serena is more competitive than that. I don’t think—even at a subconscious level—she wanted to lose or is happy with it. I do think disappointment was mingled with some relief, genuine happiness for a grinder like Kerber, perhaps a renewed sense of engagement.
I'm a huge Fed fan and feel bad as a witness his inability to close the deal at a Slam. He's reminding me of Martina Hingis, who despite her elegance, brilliance, court sense and variety of shots, was out-muscled by the Williams sisters and others. Roger appears unable to deal with that pace and strength of shot of current opponents in best of five set matches...And facing a strong talented Next-Gen of players that could be stronger still; Milos Raonic comes mind. Roger is Astaire to Novak's energetic Gene Kelly.
—Marina from Dallas
• Hingis’ power deficit was insurmountable. And it wasn’t just against the Williams sisters. The last Slam she won was in 1999. For the next five or years (cumulatively) she just couldn’t match the force of so many bigger-hitting players.
To me, Federer’s problem against Djokovic is that he knows he can’t win playing anything but his best. So his calibration and margins are different for Djokovic than they are for any player. Sometimes he’s on (three occasions—all outside majors—in 2015) and more often than not, he goes for too much, especially on his serve.
Interesting how Raonic is wearing a mouth guard. What's next? Eyeblack? Actually, why not? Should cut down on the glare as well as it does for an NFL player.
—Miles Benson, Hudson, Mass.
• Why not? Though, predictably, she was fashion forward first.
Your Mailbag concerning Henin and S. Williams is misleading. Henin’s head-to-head against Williams is 6–8, not 8–6. It gives the impression that Henin leads the head-to-head when it’s actually the other way around. Some readers might not know that.
• Point taken. Serena had the winning record. I like that Wikipedia has its own entry for this.
Note that they have played each other only 14 times, same as Borg-McEnroe. Then note that Djokovic and Federer played for the 45th (!) time the other night, while Djokovic-Nadal are closing in on 50 matches.
2016 BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells Championship: V. Williams vs. S. Williams. We should be so lucky.
—Aaron Mayfield, Chicago
• Interesting. (Though, of course there is a 50/50 chance they’ll be on the same side of the draw.) And Venus would have to be playing better than she has to start the year.
Question for the Mailbag: Kerber and Raonic played the Australian Open in a way that really took it to the favorites in their matches, Serena Williams and Andy Murray. I've never seen them play better, they seemed like champs rather than challengers! Beyond the obvious credit to the players, does this speak also to the voice of the veterans assisting them (even if briefly), Steffi Graf and Carlos Moya? And, for Germany especially with their first champ post-Graf, Becker and Stich, will this motivate Kerber's peer of the peer-less serve, Sabine Lisicki?
Thanks for all the reporting from Melbourne!
—Andrew Miller, Silver Spring, Md.
• Your larger question is interesting: how much credit to we give coaches. And this cuts the other direction, too. I was a guest on a podcast with the British tennis writer Simon Briggs. He was asked for the biggest difference in Murray’s game since 2012-13 when he was beating Djokovic. Simon’s response: “Two words, Ivan Lendl.”
In the case of Moya/Raonic, we only have two events worth of data (and credit would be shared with Riccardo Piatti), but at a minimum the partnership is off to a promising start. As for Graf, she is an inspiration to Kerber. But more credit should go to her coach (and former Clemson Tiger, we’ll have you know) Torben Beltz.
Was that less probable than picking Konta/Zhang for your quarterfinalists? It may seem like a predictable tournament with Serena and Novak through to the finals but there's always unlikely surprises in every major that keeps us and the bettors and oddsmakers stumped. And alternately, a more direct question: Misaki Doi on match point in round one. The most pivotal point of the entire tournament?
—Robert J., Toronto, Canada
• Agree. For all the “chaos” three of the four finalists were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. And the fourth was No. 7. Also, I love that you have these butterfly effects with events. Who would have guessed the Misaki Doi’s unconverted match point would have this outsized influence?
Jon, you really need to get a grip about Serena being gracious after a defeat. This is just plain good sportsmanship that has been showed to Serena every time she has won a major. It just shows how bad she has responded in defeat other times that you made such a big point of her good behavior this time.
• One of the cardinal rules of the Internet is, of course, don’t read the comments section. I concede that I break this rule sometimes, in part because it’s weirdly fascinating to see how the brains of others’ work. You read through 50 observations and thousands of words about a 14-day event that featured 254 singles matches. And your takeaway—the one item that moves you most, apparently—is to doubt Serena Williams’s graciousness in defeat?
I don’t get that for the life of me.
Anyway, after losing at the U.S. Open just a few months ago, Serena Williams was much less outspoken and measured and complimentary of the opponent as she was Saturday. That’s not opinion. Just can compare transcripts.
In defeat, other players are—not unreasonably—upset and terse. Even the sporting Roger Federer, post-defeat, called a reporter’s question “stupid” when it was thoroughly legitimate and the exact same topic that millions of tennis (and ESPN on-air talent) have pondered. Serena walks to the other side of the net in congratulations; then in the postmortem, she refers to her opponent’s pluck as an “inspiration” and seems completely comfortable with not winning in a happy-someone-else-can-have-a-chance way. In part because this was at odds with her post-match demeanor in New York (and other occasions), I thought that was worth pointing out.
Serena is going to win, no doubt but good to know Kerber did get a response from her idol....
• Obviously sent before the match. Speaking of Graf, a few of you asked whether Steffi would be in Melbourne to present Serena with the trophy. Two word answer: no chance. I’m of mixed minds here. Sure, it would be nice if Graf—one of the sport’s absolute titans—were more involved in tennis and had more visibility and presence. But I kind of respect that, when she walked away, she vowed essentially never to be part of the show again. You sorta have to admire the conviction.
• From reader James:
Me: The Warriors are 42-4, that's crazy.
My wife: They should hang out with Djoker.
• Press releasing: The Anti-Defamation League is excited to honor Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO of Tennis Channel, at the 2016 Entertainment Industry Dinner, to be held Thursday, April 14 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
• Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and Marcos Baghdatis will join a singles field that already includes John Isner, Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson and Benoit Paire at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship at River Oaks Country Club.
• Friend Chris writes: “It’s been a while since I’ve offered up a recco, but this is worth it. LP just came out. Band from LA: Band is Harriet, LP: American Appetite
Bonus points: lead singer does tennis lessons on the side.
• Here's an intriguing bit. Spot the tennis executive who, per this report, interviewed for the Univ. of Illinois athletic director position.
• My new book This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon, will be released this week by Crown.
• Here's this week’s WTA Insider Podcast, which includes an interview with Angelique Kerber after her win.