MELBOURNE -- Five thoughts from Day 11 at the Australian Open:
• Let’s start by congratulating Serena Williams on yet another stellar late-tournament performance. The No 1 seed beat Madison Keys on Thursday 7-6, 6-2, but don't let the scoreline mislead – it was best 7-6, 6-2 match you will see. Here’s all you need to know about her career. Well, not all you need, but it’s telling: she is 23-3 in Grand Slam semis. It’s safe to say she can rise to the challenge. Unless Maria Sharapova can reverse a decade-long streak, Serena will move up to 19 majors.
• We strap ourselves to the mast to avoid the seduction of the hype machine…but it’s so hard not to like Madison Keys and her potential. Her power, her poise and—maybe above all—the indications that she is not a finished product. Again, the recency effect can damn all of us but what a tournament for the 19-year-old, the Kyrgios of the women’s draw.
• In the first semifinal, Sharapova played an orderly, organized match and dispatched Ekatarina Makarova in two non-competitive sets. All credit to Sharapova, but what a shame that Makarova wasn’t able to summon the tennis that enabled her to Simona Halep 48 hours ago.
• A leftover note from Wednesday night, but tip your legionnaires cap to the performance for Novak Djokovic, who pounded Milos Raonic in straight sets. Djokovic is quietly becoming to the Australian Open what Nadal is to the French. Not only did Djokovic win in straight sets—as he has every match this event—but he lost only 12 points on serve. More stats? He won 17 of 18 net approaches. And he won a more than 48 percent of second-set serve return points.
• On happy note from an ocean away: Mardy Fish, out of tennis more much of the past three years, will be back in action at the Dallas Challenger and then Indian Wells. Golf can wait. (Can’t it always?) Fish is 33 years old, but that’s misleading given how little he has played. His absence owes to factors both physical and mental, so it’s great news he appears to have overcome both.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
Okay sure we don't have Roger and Rafa but we do have Stan vs. Novak one....more...time! Isn't that what we all really wanted?
-- Cainim in North Dakota
• We get the trilogy, the third straight year Wawrinka-Djokovic have played in Melbourne. The previous two were five-set classics. Let’s see what they can serve up Friday. That, said check out the head-to-heads.
Speaking of Nadal's "rituals," what's this about the use of towels? Did they towel off so often in the "old" days? I know all the current players like to towel off, but why does Nadal have not just one, but two towels? I've even noticed that sometimes he has not just one, but two towel boys/girls rushing to him with aid. What say you?
-- Donald Marhefka, Chengdu, China
• This is what I love about tennis. A question from China comes after a question from North Dakota. Sometimes I think ballboys and are really cabana boys. Nadal is hardly the only offender, but, there’s a lot of this going on. My favorite: the juniors beckoning for towels. I’m waiting for the court attendants to say, “You’re 14 years old, kid. A) your sweat glands aren’t fully developed. B) you want a towel? Get it yourself!”
If you had told me 7 of the top 8 men's seeds would make the quarterfinals, Roger Federer would not have been the one seed I would have thought would have been eliminated.
-- J, PDX
• Agree. And what if I had told you that Federer’s place was taken by Nick Kyrgios? While we’re here, check out the women’s draw: Four of the top eight women made the quarters. Kvitova’s place was taken by Keys. Makarova took over for Ivanovic, Venus for Radwanska and Cibulkova for Wozniacki.
Should the umpire have given Kyrgios a code violation in the second set tiebreaker, or was he right to ignore the breaking of the racket? I know it didn't affect the end outcome of the set or the match itself, but it would have snowballed into a much bigger issue if Murray were to have lost the match, no? I can only imagine the jeers and catcalls the umpire would have received from the crowd in the RLA if he'd handed Murray the set right then and there! But professionally speaking, do you think he was in the right to let it slide?
-- Cheers, Sheba
• Murray subtly let it be known that he thought it was curious Kyrgios wasn’t penalized. Not sure I agree. Even if it comes at the cost of inconsistency, I think it’s important to imbue the chair umpire with discretion. In this case, Kyrgios is already under tremendous pressure and already losing the match. Giving him a warning for equipment abuse achieves…what exactly? Other than firing up the crowd and giving the kid some motivation. If I’m Murray, I’m actually happy the racket crack went un-remarked upon. Fine him after the match, if you must. But why disrupt the rhythm of the match with some tsk-tsking?
I was thinking about the Q&A in one of your recent mailbags about the possible benefit of players receiving time off during doping bans and essentially using it as an extended offseason. Let's pretend for a minute that these players indeed benefited from the rest and time-off itself (rather than possible long term effects of doping). I realize this may have been geared more towards younger and developing players fine-tuning their games, but one of my thoughts was Federer and the French Open.
At any point during the remainder of Fed's career, should he consider skipping the French & clay tournaments, and just benefit from rest and practice time? Or will he always continue to play the four slams and just pare down the rest of his tournament schedule? Are there more benefits to staying sharp from match play during a Slam (despite the wear and tear at his age) than there is from simply skipping a Slam? In terms of Fed's question for slam No. 18, he feels to me to be a sacrificial lamb at the French Open, so I wonder if he should just skip and focus on the two hardcourt Slams and Wimbledon.
• Good point, reader (though I have misplaced your name). Martina Hingis made this point about the Williams sister years ago. Paraphrasing: I would have a better record if I played their sparse schedule. What can you say here? When history does its assessment, we can keep this in mind. Federer has played 61 straight Slams; Nadal has missed at least one major in each of the past three seasons, and seven overall since 2003. Does that mean Federer has more than 17 majors and Nadal has fewer than 14? This could be a useful data point when making a case for Federer. (Just as the head-to-head record is a data point in favor of Nadal.)
I would love to see you take a firmer stand on your recent comment 'unintentional gamesmanship' in my opinion is an oxymoron. Nadal can be a guy that means well AND one that is prone to frequent bouts of gamesmanship. Federer can be a good guy AND slyly egotistical. Many of us contain multitudes and tennis players should not be anymore immune to expressing the same sentiments as Walt Whitman's protagonist in his Song of Myself.
-- TJ, Tysons Corner
• As Whitman put it: “I am 6-1, 188 lbs. I contain multitudes.”
Shots, miscellany, U.S. edition:
• U.S. teens Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov received wild cards into the main draw of the 2015 Memphis Open, held February 7-15.
•The 2015 BNP Paribas Open field includes 11 former Tournament and 12 Grand Slam singles champions, including Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Wozniacki. In addition, the tournament will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2015.
• Martina Navratilova will return as an Official Legend Ambassador for the 2015 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, presented by SC Global.
• Serena Williams, former world No. 1, and world No. 18 Venus Williams, No. 30 Varvara Lepchenko and No. 35 and 2015 Australian Open semifinalist Madison Keys will represent the U.S. in the 2015 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II First Round against Argentina.
• Ending on a sad note, tennis fan Dow Richards, who had glioblastoma, died last weekend. Dow's rugby club, the Kansas City Blues, is selling t-shirts, with all of the profits going to Dow's wife and his two young children.