Musings from Melbourne: Jon Wertheim reports on the news and happenings on Day 1 at the 2016 Australian Open: Serena Williams wins, Sloane Stephens upset by qualifier, match fixing report.
Each day, Musings from Melbourne will feature a series of questions about the 2016 Australian Open and quick thoughts, analysis and news from Sports Illustrated's executive editor Jon Wertheim.
How do you think Serena Williams looked in her first match since her loss at the U.S. Open in the fall?
So Serena is through to the second round, which is our big story of the day so far. She did not look like she was at the peak of her powers but she beat a tough player, played well when she had to. It was her first since losing at the U.S. Open and she got through it, which is all that matters.
She looked a step slow and there were balls that she didn’t come close to getting that you would otherwise expect her to, but given we were told about how bad this knee issue was, you’d have to consider this a good win for her.
She was far from her best but one theme of last year was that she could still win when she was far from her best. She didn’t look like the dominating Serena, but she looked like Serena who got through to the next round.
What can you tell us about Sloane Stephens' loss to qualifier Qiang Wang?
It’s 4:30 in the afternoon here in Melbourne, so a lot can happen from now, but so far that’s our biggest upset of the day. This was also against a qualifier who had come through a brutal week, so it wasn’t as if it was against a rested opponent. It was going on at the same time as Serena’s match, so it was sort of a secondary story today. But it's simply a mystifying defeat. A lot of people—including Martina Navratilova—had Sloane getting to the semifinals, which of course she did three years ago in Melbourne, so that’s got to be a crushing defeat for her. She looked fit and her form looked good in Auckland, so for her to lose in the first round in straight sets to a qualifier is puzzling.
How are people reacting after the report of a possible match fixing scandal involving top-50 players was revealed on Monday?
There is a lot of whispering and I think people want to see what the goods are with this report. The sense I get is that everybody is sort of hoping these are lesser players from lesser events. There’s a guessing game going on to figure out who the Grand Slam winner is, especially since there haven’t been that many. There’s also the question of: Does a suspicious pattern indicate fixing? But also, is this a player outside of the top 50 dumping a set at a lesser event, or is this a household name at a Grand Slam? There probably shouldn’t be a big difference in our outrage, but at this point, everybody is trying to get sense of context.
It’s no secret that this is an issue—it has been for years. Nikolay Davydenko's incident was in 2008, so this isn’t a new problem. But I think the names and the scope is the next step in this story. Is this steroids in an independent league in Montana or is this steroids in the New York Yankees? That’s the analogy I make.
What other notable results or storylines are making news around Melbourne Park?
Right now the biggest story is Serena getting through to the second round, simply because of the questions surrounding her health. But things like Ivo Karlovic losing, retiring to Federico Delbonis in the third set, is also a big story. I’ve also talked to American Brian Baker, who is excited to play tomorrow in his first Grand Slam match since 2013. And Austin Krajicek got a nice win today, beating Di Wu in straight sets. And tomorrow’s Taylor Fritz-Jack Sock match has a lot of people curious and excited from an American perspective as well.