Both Serena, Lucic-Baroni exemplify strength and staying power in different ways

Wednesday January 25th, 2017

MELBOURNE – “The word for today is: will.”

Part of speech?

“This is the noun form.”

Can you use it in a sentence?

“For entirely different reasons and in entirely different ways, Serena Williams and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni—Wednesday’s winning quarterfinalists at the 2017 Australian Open—are testaments to will. In Serena’s case, just consider the context. She takes the fall off. In her first event of the season, a tuneup in New Zealand, she turns a match into a carnival of unforced errors. She can’t find the court. She’s 35. She’s no longer No. 1…but still is in possession of her will. So she comes to the Australian Open, bereft of anything resembling momentum, and wins her first five matches without dropping a set.

Tennis
The incredible comeback story of Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

On Wednesday, she snuffed out Jo Konta, perhaps the hottest player on Tour 6-2, 6-3. We talk about Serena’s dynamic serve. But she doesn't lead the tournament in aces. We talk about her athleticism. But she is closer to 40 than 30, and not demonstrably more athletic than Konta. What we neglect—in part because it’s hard to quantify—is her will. It’s the chief reason that she’s two matches from winning her 23rd Grand Slam.

And you want more will? Trailing 3-4 in the third set against Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday, Lucic-Baroni leaves the court. A stripling at age 34, she is clearly injured and gets taped to the point that she resembles a medieval knight. This, though, is the biggest match of her career. So she summons will. It doesn't matter that she’s ranked No. 70 and the opponent No. 5, fresh off a U.S. Open final run and already possessing a title in 2017. Lucic-Baroni wins 12 of the next 13 points. It’s a metaphor for her career. Fast start, low moments, a gap in the middle, a triumphant finale. All because of will.”

That’s more than a sentence.

Mailbag

Agree a Fed/Rafa final would be a blast from the past nostalgia-wise. But do you see it happening if any of the giant killers sustain their level of play? Would we see "better" tennis or just "feel good" tennis? Or would the dynamic be totally different, and we'd all feel the worse for it? Haven't we all seen the tennis god who lost a few mph on his serve, a few rpm on his topspin, a few steps on his movement, and a few games into the third set before his arms/legs turned into wet noodles? That's extreme, but you've noted the extreme level of fitness in the game and how little separates the top players. Thanks.
Martin Burkey, Huntsville, Alabama

• Fair question. No question the tournament “heart” says Federer-Nadal. The head says: whoa. Stan Wawrinka has won more Slams in the last three years than Federer and Nadal have won combined. He’s also the highest seed remaining. Grigor Dimitrov is not chopped liver. And still, you just have a feeling the Fates have sunk their teeth in this event.

Tennis
How both Australian Open No. 1 seeds lost on same day, what it means going forward

Off the top of my head is Lucic-Baroni the most unlikely women's Slam semifinalist since Flipkens?
James

• How about Mirjana Lucic at Wimbledon, 1999?....

We point out that TWO semifinalists here are unseeded. Though—you’re right—Lucic Baroni at No. 79 is more of a surprise than CoCo Vandeweghe. Maybe Pironkova at Wimbledon? But your point is well-taken.

Why do players complain about CoCo's antics more then they do about terrible shrieking/grunting/screams?
@dbilmes

• I’ve heard other players complain. I’ve seen the social media chatter. I’m at a little bit at a loss here. The complaint for years: WTA players are too nice. There are too many collegial, congenial figures who make for fine colleagues and neighbors but retreat under pressure. CoCo Vandeweghe doesn’t risk this categorization. She’s full of confidence and self-assured and perhaps brash and—I mean this in a good way—reminiscent of high school jocks whose confidence in their bodies carries over to the way the carry themselves in the halls. I suspect the Vandeweghe’s vocal support of Trump undercuts her popularity among many. But I don’t get too offended by an athlete who stalks around court and is unapologetic about her competitive instincts.

Tennis
Confident Vandeweghe on strong run at Australian Open

I'm always torn by my ill-reaction to CoCo: wouldn't I enjoy that external wearing of ego in a male player?
@sehaldorson

• Good question. When, say, Lleyton Hewitt acts comparably, “he’s a competitive guy who wears his heart on his sleeve.”

Surely this is now the oldest combined age of contestants left in the single's competition (both men and women) at a Grand Slam? Venus, Serena, Mirjana and Roger are all well over 30, with Rafa and Stan also now "over the hill.”

I was also wondering how the rankings work. I understand that you get a certain number of points for winning a round and your previous year's results are also taken into account and all that, but if I'm not mistaken then you also get bonus points for defeating a player ranked higher than you, right?  Finally, here's my pick for this week's LLS's. I think Kristoff looks like Fed every time I watch Frozen!

Hope you're enjoying your time in Melbourne. 
Cheers, Sheba

• Cheers.

1) Consider this: before this year Mirjana Lucic’s last Australian Open win came in 1998. And she is the FOURTH oldest player remaining.

2) Points are allotted per tournament. Bigger tournaments are worth points. But there ARE NO BONUS POINTS. Venus Williams has yet to play a top 20 opponents. CoCo Vandeweghe has beaten No. 1 Angie Kerber and No. 7 Garbine Muguruza. Same point allotment so far.

3) Well done.

Surely I won't be the only one to point this out: according to the Telegraph, paragon of emotional stability Jo-Wilfried Tsonga explains away his post-first set spat with Stan Wawrinka by citing..."testosterone."
Ryan Crinnigan, Chicago, Ill.

• Tennis, your appetite for irony is officially bottomless.

Roger’s run is fun, but much of it is court speed related. imagine the Australian Open was this fast the past seven years? He’d have 22 majors!
@juanmurray357

• Again and again we hear: “That Rod Laver Arena is the fastest non-grass court in the world.”

Tennis
Upsets down under: Unseeded underdogs deliver unexpected results at Aussie Open

There was some interesting insight from Mischa Zverev noted in an article on the ausopen.com website comparing his matches with Murray and Federer. Makes me think he might make a pretty good coach... your thoughts?
Lilas Pratt, Marietta, Ga.

• Mischa Zverev gave an interesting insight into why he was able to beat Andy Murray, yet made no impression on Federer: “Federer can accelerate with his wrist far more than Murray can,” explained the German after his 92-minute 6-1 7-5 6-2 defeat. “As a result, you can get a much better sense from Murray which way his shots are going, whether it’s down the line or cross court. With Roger, you have no idea. He also takes the ball so much earlier than Murray, he gets more spin on it, and he has eight different serves that he can use. Those differences really disturb the way I play, whereas when Andy plays Roger, he can use his greater strength to counter Roger’s advantages, whereas I don’t have the same strength.”

I’m just the vessel. On account of the guest, this podcast with Mischa Zverev is a terrific listen.

Tennis
Mailbag: Thoughts on the "throwback" Australian Open and longevity in the game

Thanks for selecting my comment about the throwback Aus Open. I will be sure to include my name next time. 
Dominic Ciafardini

• Namecheck Dominic Ciafardini.

Snapshots from the quarterfinals

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