MELBOURNE – Will we ever learn?
Looking back, it was a little strange, wasn’t it? How was it that Serena Williams—coming off one of the more gilded years in tennis history—still managed to start this season shrouded in doubt? Why was everyone so nervous about her 2016?
Was it because she had lost the previous Grand Slam match she’d played, that semifinal at the U.S. Open? Was it because she hadn't played another match the remainder of 2015—resting her body, we were told, though we all knew it was really to take a mental break, deserved as it was? Was it because of that left knee that cried out for attention like a spoiled child? Or was it because she was 34, an age at which, historically, players can barely see their prime years in their rearview mirror?
Really, though, have we learned nothing by now? Did we actually think Serena would retreat? Should we be surprised that she would be back to winning in less time than it takes to sing one of the karaoke songs she likes so much?
Did we really think that Maria Sharapova would improve her foot-to-butt head-to-head record against Serena, a tally that, after Tuesday's 6–4, 6–1 dismantling stands at 19-2 and forces us to go back more than a decade since Sharapova’s last win? Or that Serena wouldn’t come in fully motivated, firing almost twice as many winners and aces (28, 13) as her opponent? Are we not thinking that, two matches away, Serena is now well-positioned to win the title here, her 22nd major, tying her with Steffi Graf? Is anyone expecting anything less?
As always, Serena is answering every damn question.
Five thoughts from Tuesday mid-afternoon
• Aga Radwanska was the first player through to the semis, beating Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets. For a player exiled from the Top 10 a year ago, who's played better tennis over the last 120 days?
• Petra Kvitova is in the market for a new coach. This is a minor surprise. She and David Kotyza seemed like one of the more functional relationships. On the other hand, another inexplicable Slam loss suggested change was in order. Be interest to see who—and what kind of personality—fills this.
• Lot of residual talk about Milos Raonic and his five-set win against former champ Stan Wawrinka. This, surprisingly, was Raonic’s first win at a major over a player ranked inside the Top 10.
• The Bryan Brothers, Bob and Mike, were eliminated by Rajeev Ram and Raven Klaasen, the fifth straight Slam they’ve failed to win. Nice tournament for Ram who also knocked off Kevin Anderson in singles.
• Happy Australia Day, everyone!
Tyronn Lue has already lost more games/matches as head coach than Moya has lost coaching Raonic
• We were having some back and forth on Twitter the other day about Carlos Moya enjoying success as Raonic’s new entourage member. This is always one of these discussions that becomes an issue of correlation versus causation. But it is striking how well Raonic has played since Moya joined the camp.
At the Australian Open, Kei Nishikori was drawn to play the ninth seed, a veteran no-Slam (one-final) wonder against whom he owns a 2-to-1 win-loss ratio and typically plays matches that go the distance. They both deliver on their first three matches, and then Nishikori clobbers his opponent in straight sets to set up a quarterfinal with the defending champion. Now, did I write this about this year, or last year?
P.S. The answer is both ;)
• Both? I was deeply disappointed by Tsonga. He looked terrific in the Week One. To use my least favorite cliche (and I do have a favorite) he was “flying under the radar.” Healthy, motivated and a former finalist here, I expected better than Sunday’s shaky effort.
Down in Oz for the first time, enjoying my first Grand Slam tournament ever at the Australian Open! Was at Ron Laver for the day and night sessions on Sunday—amazing day! Question about Dasha Gavrilova. Liked her game and really wanted to like her, but her histrionics and meltdown made her seem a bit petulant to me. And kudos to Suarez Navarro for keeping her composure! Thoughts on Gavrilova—future star or one slam "wonder"? I'm in the latter camp.
—Tim H., Atlanta, Ga.
• Something in between. But I liked Gavrilova here, not least her embrace of the stage and the fight she shows, winning matches despite a physical disadvantage. By the third set of Sunday’s match, she was in Kyrgios mode. Lots of histrionics, lots of playing to the crowd, lots of manufactured controversy. And little to show for it. Then she calmed down and tweeted this and won me back.
I tuned in to the Aussie Open on ESPN a few nights ago, and waited for 20 minutes while the broadcasters droned on about the non-story of betting. Tonight, I’ve tuned in and been forced to wait another 15 minutes while Chris, Patrick, et al explored the non-story of Nigel Sears’ collapse during the Ivanovic-Keys match. Are you kidding me? If I am a hardcore tennis fan, I’m only faintly interested in these topics, not the least because both stories were about things that did not happen. But if ESPN happens to catch the casual tennis fan, or the general sports fan who doesn’t really know tennis, do they really think he or she needs to know about Sears?
• I wouldn’t call the collapse of a star player’s coach—during the match—a non-story. Especially when the aforementioned coach is also the father-in-law of a multiple Grand Slam champ playing simultaneously. But your larger point is well-taken. This is the dilemma facing television of a niche sport. If you get too inside baseball and refer to players by their first name and talk wonkily about Ekatarina Makarova’s improved split step and lefty volleys, you lose the casual fan tuning in after college hoops. If you assume nothing and explain that Serena Williams, the younger sister of Venus, is an excellent player trying to win the first of the year’s four Majors, you alienate the base.
I am sitting watching Hingis/Paes play mixed doubles and I see that they are unseeded. That just doesn't sound right; especially given they won titles together last year (at least if I am remembering correctly)! How are mixed doubles seedings decided?
—Lauren, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
• The seedings are based on the combined doubles rankings between the two players. Hingis is No. 1 and Paes is No. 50 so they are out of the top eight seeding.
I would agree that it’s odd that the best team in the business is unseeded. But how do you seed mixed teams when there are so few data points (i.e. only four mixed tournament each year)?
Is it fair that umpires give their “opinion” and details about whether they think a ball is in or out when a player is debating challenging? Couldn’t an umpire show favor towards players if they suggest a player challenge when they know the call will go against them? Saw this happening with the Azarenka match and it kind of bothered me!
• This is a fine line. Clearly there are times when the chair umpire is concerned about a call. Not sufficiently concerned to invoke their overrule, but enough so they can nudge players to issue a challenge. This goes back to the Mary Carillo issue: if accuracy is the goal and we have the technology, why are messing around with finite challenge and this kind of coding between player and the chair. Just get it right and enough with this “two challenges remaining” nonsense.
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—Thanks, Jonas Soya
• Compliments of the day to you as well, friend! I would like to invest in a documentary about scam artists, genuinely curious as I am, about who these people are and how many mass emails it takes to get a response. I would want to trace the process, soup-to-nuts. Sort of like, “How does oil get from the ground into my car.” Care to invest?
• Talking match-fixing on Hang Up and Listen.
• Check out Jonathan Newman’s “This Week in Tennis.”
• Our pal Helen credits her Seattle tennis pal Cheryl, and Cheryl’s tennis pal, Cristal with LLS: Sorana Cirstea and Ajla Tomljanovic