Serena Williams and the Canadian contingent impressed; Jack Sock, not so much.
MELBOURNE — Day two at the Australian Open saw an impressive Serena Williams, a terrific display from the Canadian contingent and the continued descent of a former top-10 American. Here are five thoughts from the second day of action Down Under.
• No one wipes a hard drive clean quite like Serena Williams does. She’ll lose desultorily one week and run the table the next. She’ll play a lousy set and then decline to miss a ball. Last time we saw her, she, lamentably, played a starring role at the thermonuclear 2018 U.S. Open final. She didn’t play a match the rest of the year and didn’t address a controversy that echoed worldwide, bringing in everyone from J.K. Rowling to Hank Aaron. Would this bitterness linger? Not hardly. She returned to action today, looking like a player unbothered by recent history and utterly lacking in rust. Poised and polished, she made fast work of Tatjana Maria of Germany—one of her few fellow mothers on tour—6-0, 6-2. Eleven women can become No. 1 after this event. Serena is not one of them. But can she win the title? Absolutely.
• Today’s schedule featured a double dose of Williams. Venus, at age 38, took the court against 25th-seeded Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 30-year-old Romanian and holder of a Ph.D. Venus got off to a decidedly slower start than her sister, dropping the first set 7-6. She then rallied, as she has done countless times over the last quarter-century, and escaped with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 victory. After her standout 2017, Venus won only four of eight Grand Slam matches in 2018 and parted ways with much of her team, including coach David Witt. This was a much-needed win. And she now gets France’s Alize Cornet, with whom the family has a layered history.
• For a country with one-tenth the U.S. population and one-tenth the climate, Canada sure is well-positioned as a tennis nation. Milos Raonic had no issues dispelling Aussie’s own Nick Kyrgios, whose stock continues to fall as he’ll drop further outside the top 50. Denis Shapovalov looked like something other than a 19-year-old, as he ran through Pablo Andujar in straight sets. Bianca Andreescu, age 18, beat Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams to start the year; she qualified for the main draw here; today she beat fellow teen Whitney Osuigwe to win her first main draw match. And Genie Bouchard has returned from the tennis hinterlands. She rolled Peng Shuai today and now faces Serena Williams in round two.
• If 2018 was Jack Sock’s annus horribilis, 2019 isn’t off to an auspicious start either. A top-10 seed here last year, Sock came in this year ranked outside the top 100. That won’t improve after today’s performance, a four-set capitulation to the conditions and to a wild card, tbe frost-tipped Alex Bolt. A former construction worker who realized tennis isn’t so bad compared to digging fence-poles, Bolt is a great story. But Sock’s slump has grown legs and a tail. Look for him to consider bailing on doubles to play the Newport event and try and apply the defibrillator. As it stands, he’ll have to qualify (or beg a wild card—pressure’s on the agent) from Indian Wells and Miami.
• The onslaught of results in these early days mean that rich stories go untold or undertold. Three offhand? Jo Konta, who has fallen deep outside the top 10 and had trouble closing matches, took outside Ajla Tomjlanovich (the Steve Colbert “superfluous J” joke applies) in a third-set supertiebreak. Now she gets Garbine Muguruza. With new coach Jim Madrigal in the stands, Madison Keys won her first match of 2019 in straight sets. The oldest player in the draw, Ivo Karlovic (who turns 40 next month) beat Hubert Hurkacz, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6.