Grand Slams. The crowds are bigger, the stakes are higher, and in Melbourne, the sun is hotter. The first week of the first Grand Slam of 2014 is in the books, and there was no shortage of heat-induced drama.
Let’s rewind some of the highlights.
Roger Federer seems to be one of the few players dodging the drama, while simultaneously proving the critics wrong. His coaching chemistry is right, the new racquet seems right, and he’s back in the hunt for another Grand Slam title (his 5th Australian Open). He’s into the 4th round, having won each of his matches in straight sets. No last hurrah yet.
First Round Losses
For top players, losing early at a Grand Slam is more than just an “upset”. It is a cringe-worthy, confidence-sucking, racquet-slamming moment. The first week’s first-round casualties at the Australian Open were as follows:
Juan Martin del Potro
Vera “Bepa” Zvonareva
After the first week, there is only one American (male or female) left standing in singles: Sloane Stephens. The No. 13 seed is into the 4th round for the first time in her young career.
Upset of the Tournament
Ana Ivanovic moved into the 4th round, after defeating Aussie favorite, Sam Stosur. Then came the shock of the tournament. Ivanovic defeated 5-time Aussie Open champion Serena Williams for the first time in five meetings. Serena’s footwork was off. She didn’t practice the day before, and rumors began to fly about a back injury, and simply not being 100% physically. Serena was very complimentary of Ana’s game, in her post-match press conference, and finally came clean about having back problems, after finding out that her coach let the cat out of the bag.
“I know for a fact that I can play 10-times better than I played today,” said Serena.
ESPN’s Chris Evert said that Serena “looked lethargic, and wasn’t dictating the play.”
No 18th Grand Slam singles title for Serena. At least not in Melbourne.
Players, fans, (and a few water bottles) were melting on the courts during this past week in Melbourne. The Extreme heat policy was finally implemented on Thursday, January 15, after days of triple digit temperatures tested the physical and mental limits of players and fans alike.
Survival of the Fittest
Maria Sharapova was able to overcome the extreme heat, after missing most of the second half of the 2013 season, indicating that she’s back in top form. She won a crucial (and brutal) 3rd round match vs. No. 44 Karin Knapp 6-3, 4-6, 10-8, which lasted 3 hours, 28 minutes. Just after the extreme heat policy went into effect, they had to finish the third set, according to the rules. Sharapova and Knapp played another 48 minutes in dangerous temperatures. Hats off to both players for getting through it. We’ll just ignore those 29 double faults that Sharapova accumulated this past week.
The New Canadian on the Block
Eugenie Bouchard. The soon to be 20-year-old is a triple threat — into the 4th round in singles, 3rd round in doubles (with Dushevina), and will be playing mixed doubles. She defeated Australia’s Casey Dellacqua en route to the 4th round, and is the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam QF since 1992.
The Most Well-Known Unknown
Stephane Robert. Who? He’s 33 years old, ranked 119, and into the 4th round, after coming up through the qualifying rounds. The frenchman became the luckiest of lucky losers, after No. 21-seed Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew from the tournament with an injury, and Robert nabbed his spot.
The Man in Stripes
Tomas Berdych has made a bold fashion statement, which may or may not be a hit with fans. Regardless, he and his blue striped shirt, courtesy of H&M, are into the QF, and will play David Ferrer.
On Cruise Control
Andy Murray. He hasn’t dropped a set yet. He’s into the 4th round, and is looking to win his first AO title. His recent back surgery seemed to work.
Victoria Azarenka. The defending champion is looking for her third consecutive title, and so far, she’s well on her way. No drama, just positive results, without dropping a single set.
Li Na. She’s quickly approaching her 32nd birthday, and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. As last year’s runner-up at the Australian Open, she has some unfinished business to attend to.
Rafael Nadal. He had an easy 1st round vs. Tomic, who retired from injury after the 1st set. Nadal had a bit of his own injury scare vs. Monfils in the 3rd round, but shrugged it off, and seems to be unstoppable.
Unexpected Doubles Duo
Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt. Who would have expected Rafter to come out of retirement to play doubles? Apparently the 1980s really are making a comeback. Unfortunately, the Aussie duo lost in the first round, but it was a good source of entertainment.
Under the Radar
Tommy Robredo. He made it into the 4th round, only to be toppled by Switzerland’s “other” tennis star, Stan Wawrinka. The QF match vs. Djokovic will likely be Wawrinka’s most difficult match of the tournament, which he hopes won’t be a re-peat of last year’s brutal 5-setter, where he lost 12-10.
Jelena “JJ” Jankovic is into the 4th round of the AO for the first time in two years. She hasn’t had the most difficult draw, but that will soon change.
Flavia Pennetta is officially back in the game, and into the quarterfinals at the AO for the first time.
Kei Nishikori. Japan’s No. 1 player survived a brutal 5-setter in the 1st round vs. Australia’s Marinko Matosevic, and blew past an injured Donald Young in the 3rd round, winning in straight sets. Rafa is next.
Tournament Stats of Note:
8 – day 1
5 – day 2
1 – day 3
5 – day 4
1 – day 5
0 – day 6
0 – day 7
Kevin Anderson – 79
Serena Williams – 39; Flavia Pennetta – 22