The Oz Couple

Amélie Mauresmo and Roger Federer won singles titles at an Australian Open rife with lessons for the 2006 season
February 06, 2006

Water is wet.Fire is hot. And in other news, Roger Federer won the Australian Open. Themountainously talented Swiss star rarely summoned his best tennis in Melbourne,but--and this must be terribly demoralizing to the rest of the field--it didn'tmuch matter. Federer played well when the situation demanded it, including thepivotal points of the final, in which he defeated the charismatic MarcosBaghdatis in four sets. Federer's seventh major title not only puts himsquarely on the road to Samprasville but also takes care of the first leg ofhis (hardly unrealistic) quest to win the Grand Slam in 2006.

The women'swinner was as surprising as Federer was unsurprising. France's Amélie Mauresmohas long been a fluid, artistic player who fares well in small tournaments andin the rankings but requires the Heimlich maneuver in big-ticket matches. Inlast Saturday's final Mauresmo, 26, played exquisite tennis and didn't have theopportunity to choke. Her opponent, Justine Henin-Hardenne, retired inmid-match with an upset stomach. While it was a bizarre ending to the match andunsporting of Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo had played unsurpassed tennis, and hertitle struck a blow for karma. "I'm here with the trophy only because I'vematured," she said. "I grew up, and I've had lessons from thisprofessional career."

Speaking oflessons, here's what else we learned from the year's first major.

•Marcos Baghdatisis a future star. On account of his Greek-Cypriot heritage and his winsomedisposition, the 20-year-old was the toast of Melbourne as he beat three Top 10players. The lovefest had the perverse effect of obscuring his exceptionaltennis. A pocket Federer, Baghdatis is a wonderful shotmaker who calmly zingedwinners and even outaced Andy Roddick. This was no one-hit wonder DownUnder.

•Nicolas Kiefermay have won five matches, but he may also have been the tournament's biggestloser. Beyond racking up $6,000 in fines for assorted breaches of conduct, thesurly German disgraced himself when he tried to distract an opponent bythrowing his racket across the net during play--and then refused to concede thepoint.

•Martina Hingisis still endowed with a surfeit of talent. And a deficit of power. In her firstSlam event since 2002 a matured Hingis--call her the Swiss Ms.--looked like aTop 10 player, dissecting four inferior opponents and, for good measure,winning the mixed doubles. But unless she amps up her game, her impuissantsecond serve in particular, she will continue to struggle against the heavyhitters.

•Andy Roddick isa work in regress. The best American under the age of 35 lookeduncharacteristically timid as he lost to Baghdatis in the fourth round. DoesRoddick swallow massive quantities of pride and ask Brad Gilbert to coach himagain?

•Europe hasbecome the sport's epicenter. By the quarterfinals all but two of the 16remaining singles players--Argentina's David Nalbandian and California'sLindsay Davenport--hailed from the Continent. And this was without Russia'sMarat Safin and Spain's Rafael Nadal in the draw.

•Instant replayis long overdue. Henin-Hardenne's wins against Davenport and Maria Sharapovawere aided by crucial line calls that Shot Spot replays on TV revealed to beincorrect.

•Rafael Nadal,who won 11 tournaments in 2005, would likely have given Federer a run for hisAussie dollars on a court that played post-office slow. He missed the eventwith a foot injury. Did Nadal, as Andre Agassi recently suggested, write morechecks in 2005 than his body could cash?

•OSHA, in fact,needs to pay tennis a visit. High-profile players were injured before thetournament, during the tournament (Kim Clijsters turned her ankle in the semisand left the stadium in a wheelchair) and after the tournament. (Davenport,Serena Williams and Lleyton Hewitt all pronounced themselves unfit to play thisweek.) Whatever the cause--the interminable schedule? the high-tech rackets?the flypaperlike court surface in Melbourne?--the sport needs to address itsinjury-o-rama.

•The Oz Openmight be the ultimate tennis tournament. It's a beer event, not a wine event,with affordable tickets and with capacity crowds that appreciate doubles andstay past midnight. How does tennis capture this populist vibe and pass it onto the other events on the calendar?

• L. JonWertheim's Tennis Mailbag at

TWO PHOTOSDAVID CALLOW (2)MASTER STROKES Mauresmo and Federer were rock solid off both sides in Melbourne.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)