We’re through Week One of the first major of the year. The defending men’s champ is out, removed from the draw (and the country) by the Australian Minister for Immigration. The defending women’s champ is out, KO’d by a resurgent 20-year-old American. Rafa Nadal is 12 sets from becoming the men’s all-time majors singles winner. Ash Barty is eight sets from becoming the first Aussie since the 1970s to win the singles title. We have a serve-and-volleying dervish, a clear top American male, a resurgent Simona Halep and a second-seed who may lead the field in double-faults but still keeps winning. Tennis gonna tennis.
Herewith, our midterm grades from the 2022 Australian Open:
Amanda Anisimova: A Week Two player in Melbourne three years ago at age 17, she has retreated after family tragedy. She’s back in the biggest way, taking out Naomi Osaka, slugging the ball, serving better than ever, looking like a future major champ … and smiling.
Rafa Nadal: Here’s a scandalously under-the-radar storyline: One player is 12 sets away from becoming the all-time majors winner in the men’s division. And the French is next. How the plot twists; how the plot thickens.
Ash Barty: It’s been more than 40 years since an Aussie won. If the top seed continues at this level, that will end on Saturday. As of this writing she’s gone 57 games without a break of serve and surrendered eight games in her first three assignations.
Max Cressy: He just keeps coming forward.
The men’s faves: Daniil Medvedev (winner of the previous major) and Alexander Zverev have yet to be touched.
Madison Parvenu: Keys is cruising into round four. Aussie wild card (Maddison – two D’s) Inglis reached round three. Delaware’s Brengle won the craziest match of the year.
Taylor Fritz: Establishing himself as the clear-cut American male.
WTA: There was so much bad news for tennis lately—the Djokovic debacle, the American TV coverage debacle—but thanks to Malcolm Gladwell for reminding the world about this. And by the way: #WhereIsPengShuai?
Sam Stosur: Closed out a career—a singles career, anyway—with a fine win and spirited loss. Next stop: the International Tennis Hall of Fame?
Nick Kyrgios/Thanasi Kokkinakis: The Aussie mates took out the top seeds in doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
Chris Evert: The expression “Never meet your heroes”? She splinters that. As cool and personable and normal as you suspect she is. Wish her well.
Netflix Project: Another story overshadowed by L’Affaire Djokovic. If the WTA and ATP aren’t merging per se, they are working together like never before, realizing that a sport where men and women play simultaneously and court the same base is a real asset.
Emma Raducanu: Fell in the second round to Danka Kovinic, a loss largely attributable to a hand blister. But she beat another former U.S. champ in the first round in Sloane Stephens and leaves in a better place than she arrived.
Naomi Osaka: The last time she lost in a major, she was excruciatingly unhappy. This time, she competed gamely and emerged full of perspective and self-possession.
Andy Murray: Knocked out a seeded player in round one (Nikoloz Basilashvili) but went out meekly to sub-100 Taro Daniel in his next match.
Thanasi Kokkinakis in singles: Already a candidate for story of the year, the well-liked, oft-injured Aussie wins his first title in Adelaide … and then, 36 hours later and depleted in reserves, loses in round one to a qualifier.
Tereza Martincova: Fell in round two. But if there’s a Best Tennis Body Art division, we have a winner.
Nick Kyrgios in singles: The embodiment of the sports cliché “it is what it is.” He is undeniably talented and entertaining. But until/unless he commits himself more fully, he is incapable of making a dent as a player unseeded in a best-of-five event.
Novak Djokovic: Plenty of doorsteps on which to lay blame for this mess, but it starts with him and ends with him. You wonder, truly, if he has any clue how he is perceived broadly. Or if he is so siloed by toadies and loyalists and social media bots that he thinks he’s still the righteous seeker. Here’s a pep talk: Get the damn vaccine and get back to the business of winning Majors. You’re too good—and have done too much good—for this.
Garbiñe Muguruza: The winner of two majors and the 2021 WTA Finals scarcely mounted resistance —i.e. did not get to a single break point—in a mystifyingly vacant loss to Alize Cornet.
Dayana Yastremska: Lost her first match to Madison Brengle 6–1, 0–6, 5–0. Sorry, gotta finish that out.
Television coverage in the U.S.: The definition of an unforced error. And this is mostly on Tennis Australia for the cash grab. One can only hope that this is corrected in 2022. There’s no better way to kill off a sport than making it difficult, if not impossible, for fans to find.
Here’s an ESPN statement on the coverage that has frustrated so many of you:
Last [Wednesday] night, a combination of factors led to certain matches being unavailable on ESPN+. One of those matches—Fritz vs. Tiafoe—should have been covered live in full on one of our platforms. We have addressed the issue and our plan is to ensure all matches are available live going forward. The combination of ESPN+ and our networks, including ESPN3, increases our ability to deliver comprehensive coverage of tennis majors and bring more tennis to fans.