Australian Open: Best, worst and everything in between
The 2012 Australian Open is in the books. The season's first major was a wild one, with racket smashes, ballkids going viral and matches that both kept us on the edge of our seats and made us want to jump out of the stands altogether. Now a few days removed, we've had enough time to process the action and offer some of our best and worst moments. So let's get to it.
Best Men's Match, Week 1: Bernard Tomic def. Alexander Dolgopolov, 4-6, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3. More slicing and dicing than a Slap Chop commercial, these two provided a three-hour, 49 minute glimpse into the future with a variety of funky shot-making that seemed otherworldly in light of all the usual baseline bashing. Here's a backhand slice winner from Tomic that provides a little glimpse of just how unusual this match was.
Best Women's Match, Week 1: Kim Clijsters def. Li Na, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. This could either go on the "best match" or "worst match" list, depending on your point of view. On one hand, it was painful to watch Li bail out Clijsters' choke of a drop shot (at about the 1:45 mark below) by pushing the ball right back instead of putting it away on match point. The subsequent meltdown for much of the third set was equally hard to watch. That said, watching Clijsters hang on in that second set to force the tiebreak and then survive four match points (all on a bum ankle, mind you) was memorable stuff.
Best Men's Match, Week 2: Novak Djokovic. def. Rafael Nadal, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5. It wasn't the highest quality (at least by the unfair standards these two have set), nor was it the greatest final of all time, though it was the longest. But if there was ever a match that put brute competitiveness on display, it was this one.
Best Women's Match, Week 2: Maria Sharapova def. Petra Kvitova, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. A week later, I still don't understand how Sharapova won this match. She can use that third set as further proof on her resume as to why she's one of the fiercest competitors in sports, constantly saving break points and serving her way out of trouble just when Kvitova seemed poised to break. As for Kvitova, for her sake I'm going to ignore that slice forehand she sent long on match point. What a brain lapse.
Worst Men's Match: Mikhail Kukushkin def. Gael Monfils, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4. Speaking of brain lapses... If you had the misfortune (or in my case, masochistic tendencies) of sitting through all three hours and 40 minutes of this choke-fest, you know that nothing that Li did against Clijsters even comes close to what Kukushkin and Monfils did on Margaret Court Arena. Kukushkin couldn't fight through his nerves to finish a hobbling Monfils in three sets, and when the Frenchman took the third and started whooping up the crowd, Kukushkin looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on the court. Monfils looked well on his way to victory when all of a sudden, while serving to stay in the match, he lost concentration, perhaps due in part to a giant tennis ball landing on the court (no really). Monfils double faulted twice and the match was over.
Worst Women's Match: Victoria Azarenka def. Maria Sharapova, 6-3, 6-0. The Australian Open has a history of producing lopsided women's finals (Justine Henin retiring to Amelie Mauresmo in '06, Serena beating Sharapova 1 and 2 in '07, Serena beating Dinara Safina 0 and 3 in '09), and we can add this one to the heap. No one saw this beatdown coming, not even Azarenka, who collapsed to her knees after winning and then looked over to her box in a "What just happened?" gesture. That's the question many were left with after her comprehensive win over Sharapova, who had no answers to Azarenka's backboard-like consistency.
Best Shot: The audacity of Rafael Nadal to yank the ball back cross court, as opposed to going down the line, still leaves my jaw on the floor.
Most fun series of points: Look, if Andy Murray is caught smiling, you know it was fun. Who says the all-court game is dead?
Best Display of Sportsmanship: The Wozniacki family, led by Piotr, giving Kim Clijsters a high-five and "Congratulations" outside the player locker rooms after she beat Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.
Best Meltdown: Vera Zvonareva sobbing into the court, David Nalbandian's racket throwing on match point, heck, Novak Djokovic going mental after he won the title are all fantastic meltdowns. But if you break four rackets, you win. No contest. Game, set, match, Baggy.
Best Ballkid Moment: This video went viral immediately and for good reason. That's a web gem, minus the web.
Best Ballkid Moment 2.0: I can't tell you how many times I've burst out laughing whenever this clip was played on Australian television. They couldn't get enough of it.
Best Kit: I'm sure it's no consolation, but Sharapova wins the style wars.
Worst Kit: Thank you Bernard Tomic, for ensuring we didn't have to see Fernando Verdasco's Adidas eye-sore for more than one match.
Best Journalist/Player Exchange: Sharapova's "Oh" was never put into the transcript but it's in the audio and you heard it if you were there, and it's what makes this exchange phenomenal.
Q. A bunch of players this week have made comments talking about how they think the noise that you and Azarenka in particular make is excessive.
Q. Radwanska was one player that said she thinks the noise you and Azarenka make is excessive and she'd like to see the WTA change the rules to prohibit that.
Sharapova: Isn't she back in Poland already?
Sharapova: When did she get a chance to say that?
Q. After she lost her quarterfinal.
Sharapova: She lost the match?
Worst Journalist/Player Exchange: If you're starting your question with a "Delicate question" caveat, perhaps discretion is the better part of valor.
Q. Delicate question. How do you explain that sometimes men are heterosexual at the beginning and they become gay during their life? Doesn't happen the opposite with women when they turn to be homosexual?
Martina Navratilova: You don't turn. Do you turn straight? No, you didn't. You don't turn gay. No, I think you don't know enough about the issue when you frame a question like that. You don't just turn. You either are or not.
Best Quotes of the Tournament
Writing about running is like dancing about architecture: Maria Sharapova was reading George Orwell's 1984 during the tournament and the decision to read it was a pretty easy one.
"It was either that or the running book by Haruki Murakami, where he wrote about running. I was like, I don't think so. I was like worst thing about running is reading a book about running."
Will the real Serena Williams please stand up?: Serena was a little stressed about missing some schoolwork while she was in Australia, but luckily for her, she's Serena Williams.
"School starts on the 23rd, so I kind of texted one of my professors to tell him I was in Australia, and I don't know if I can make the first assignment in time. He was like, 'It's fine. I was wondering if it was really you' (laughter)."
Not too tired to laugh: After the final, Nadal was asked whether he would sit down and watch the five-hour and 53 minute match on replay.
"Too long. (Laughter.) Highlights only."
And for a nanosecond, Larry Ellison was happy: After losing in straight sets to Ekaterina Makarova, Serena Williams was anxious to get back onto the tennis court. But not that anxious.
"I want to pick up a tournament because I did so awful here. There's no tournaments, unless I pick up Indian Wells, and we all know I'm not going there (smiling). It crossed my mind very briefly, like a nanosecond."
The wisdom of youth: Laura Robson was the only player in the main draw to wear a rainbow on Margaret Court Arena during the fortnight, wearing a rainbow hairband in her first-round match against Jelena Jankovic. Afterwards, in a small room overflowing with journalists, she made her point without getting baited into greater controversy. That might have been her most deft move, on or off the court, of the tournament.
"I wore it because I believe in equal rights for everyone, and that's it. It's not a protest, it's a hairband."
Sometimes you need a rimshot: Ivo Karlovic was asked about the difference between winning and losing after his straight-set loss to Roger Federer .
"He won the match point. (Smiling.) That's a joke. Nobody is laughing. All right."
That's how people say hi to Jay-Z, too: Zheng Jie was asked about the impact of her "Jay-Z" video in the locker room. She brushed off her shoulders (no really, she did), and gave us the update.
"After my video, every player watch me don't say hello, (they) say 'Yo, Yo'."
That's funny, me too: Asked on court how he planned to spend the evening after defeating Michael Llodra, Andy Murray, a notorious teetotaler, jokingly turned over a new leaf.
"I'm going to go out and get hammered."
The Federer rule of five: Roger Federer shall allot you five fistpumps per match. They're like challenges. Use them wisely.
"I see many women's players being extremely sort of tense and fist pumping after every single point. It's to me pretty surprising to see that, I guess. I have fist pumped maybe five times at the most, and they do that in one game."
The Bryan Baby: Do I need to have a talk with Bob Bryan on how babies are born? Because "spit it out" is just... wrong.
"I've been telling her, Don't watch the matches; it will get your heart rate going and you might spit that baby out... She's getting big, man. She's huge. She showed me her stomach. It doesn't even look human. This thing, I don't know how it's staying in there." What are your favorite moments? Sound off in the comments and let us know.