It would be hard to blame anyone for not fastidiously following tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year, given the NFL Playoffs, some great college basketball action, and Rachel vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off. Regardless, the tennis season is underway after an embarrassingly short offseason, especially for the men (the lucky eight who made it to the season-ending championships in London were rewarded with a grand total of five weeks off).
Last Monday marked the start of the Australian Open, often regarded as the red-headed stepchild of Grand Slams, and it’s been an eventful week Down Under. Everyone knows Federer, Nadal and Djokovic breezed through the early rounds, so here are some other happenings of note:
- Professional tennis players are grumpy fucks. Look no further than Marcos Baghdatis, who calmly smashed four (FOUR!) rackets in a fit of rage (though his altogether calm demeanor is to be admired), or Tomas Berdych, who threw a shit fit and refused the post-match handshake with Nic Almagro after a seemingly innocent beaning, then felt the wrath of the usually-jolly Aussie crowd. Baghdatis’ case, though entertaining, is bothersome considering that smashing spree would cost the average weekend hacker upwards of $800. Granted, he was fined that exact amount (pocket change for him), but he’ll have another bag full of rackets to smash during his next meltdown. Berdych’s overreaction is pretty sad in itself. The shot that caused the drama didn’t seem to have much malice in it, and Almagro went out of his way to apologize afterward (though Berdych didn’t acknowledge it). TB is like the tough guy in the club who starts a fight because “he looked at me the wrong way”. Grow some balls and get some thicker skin.
- American tennis is in the shitter. The U.S. started the week with a combined 21 players in the men’s and women’s draws. There are currently none left. There are officially more Japanese left than Americans (more on the Japanese shortly). Though there were some notable bright spots for young Americans (i.e. Vania King’s upset of 15th seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, John Isner’s 5-set epic against the once-great David Nalbandian), it was an overall mess, with Andy Roddick (2nd round), Mardy Fish (2nd), and Serena Williams (4th) all bowing out before week two began. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the “future of American tennis” (Ryan Harrison, Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale) will have its day in the sun, but for now there’s a huge hole that won’t be filled any time soon.
- Kei Nishikori is the real deal. The 22-year old from Japan reached the Quarters with an impressive five-set win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, one of the tournament’s favorites not named Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Though he didn’t capture a title in 2011, he ended the year strong, reaching the finals in Basel (d. Djokovic, d. Berdych) and the semis in Shanghai (d. Tsonga, d. Dolgopolov) and Kuala Lumpur (d. Almagro). He’s now up to #26 in the world, but more impressively, he might be the first-ever tennis player to sport a Ramen noodles endorsement patch.
- Caroline Wozniacki will never win a Grand Slam. This statement might seem harsh, especially given her performances in Melbourne so far, where she has yet to drop a set. But it’s hard to see her ever beating a heavy-hitter in a meaningful match. Both Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova (not to mention Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova) have looked tough so far, and my money would be on Wozniacki bowing out to Kim in the Quarters. She’s an all-around solid player who will never be able to bring the goods against superior competition when it really matters. She’s the Dan Marino of her time.
Week Two promises to bring the goods, with potential Roger/Rafa and Kvitova/Sharapova semifinal matches. Check back for another recap after Championship Sunday.