Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wawrinka highlights czar's Australian Open awards

Roger Federer, near court, warms up before his fourth-round match against
Bernard Tomic at Rod Laver Arena in the 2012 Australian Open.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Reflections on a wild Australian Open:
   Best match -- No. 8 seed Stanislas Wawrinka defeated No. 2 seed and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 in the quarterfinals.
   Wawrinka ended an eight-year, 14-match losing streak to Djokovic, including a five-set epic in the fourth round of last year's Australian Open. This time, Djokovic uncharacteristically serve-and-volleyed on match point and badly steered a forehand volley wide. Was this new coach Boris Becker's influence? If so, nice job, Boris.
   Biggest upsets -- Both top-ranked players lost in shocking fashion. Wawrinka beat 13-time Grand Slam singles champion Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 for his first major title, and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic toppled five-time Australian Open singles winner Serena Williams 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round.
   Neither Wawrinka nor Ivanovic had won a set in 16 combined matches against their opponents (Wawrinka was 0-12 against Nadal). Not coincidentally, both Nadal and Williams were hobbled by back injuries. Still, Wawrinka and Ivanovic played brilliantly.
   Worst rule -- Medical timeouts have to go. Nadal -- hurt or not -- pulled this stunt while trailing Wawrinka one set to none and a break and was justifiably booed by the crowd as he returned to the court from the locker room.
   Yes, when play resumed, Nadal barely moved at times and hit powder-puff serves. Miraculously, though, he looked fine in the third set. Maybe his back loosened up. Maybe painkillers kicked in.
   Regardless, medical timeouts disrupt the flow of the match and are unfair to opponents and fans. Nothing in tennis -- with the possible exception of those worthless, intrusive prematch interviews in the tunnel -- is more annoying than a player being treated while lying on the court or while in the locker room. Either you can play or you can't.
   Breakout performers -- Eugenie Bouchard of Canada reached the semifinals at 19. Chris Evert, ESPN's outstanding analyst and an International Tennis Hall of Famer, called Bouchard "the future of women's tennis." She has power at 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and unusual poise.
Margaret Court Arena is shown with Rod Laver Arena in the background
during the 2012 Australian Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Grigor Dimitrov, known as "Baby Fed" for his Roger Federer-like game, is beginning to put it all together at 22. The Bulgarian boyfriend of Maria Sharapova advanced to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. With his talent and ideal height (6-foot-2, 1.88 meters), it could be only a matter of time until he wins a major.
   Federer won his first Grand Slam title one month before his 22nd birthday in his 17th major. Dimitrov has played in 14 majors.
   Also, 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza likely is headed to the women's top 10. The 6-foot (1.82-meter) Spaniard is ranked 35th after reaching the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
   Biggest flop -- Sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, lost to 88th-ranked Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in the first round. The 20-year-old Kumkhum, playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time, fell in the second round to  Mona Barthel of Germany.
   Most poignant match -- Nadal made Federer, who has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, look almost ordinary in the last two sets of a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 semifinal victory. Nadal is younger, stronger and faster. Federer's last real shot at winning another Slam could come at Wimbledon in July. He'll turn 33 the following month.
   Funniest player -- Refreshingly, the acceptance speech by women's champion Li Na was more like a comedy routine. To her agent: "Make me rich. Thanks a lot." To her husband, Jiang Shan: “You are so lucky to find me.”
   Strangest quote -- Dr. Tim Wood, the tournament's chief medical officer, dismissed concerns about playing in 104-degree (40 Celsius) heat. "We evolved on the high plans of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions," he said.
   Where did this guy get his medical degree? Online? Remind me not to consult him the next time I break my ankle jogging in Melbourne. He'll give me two aspirin and send me on my way. 
   Worst dressed -- Bethanie Mattek-Sands -- who else? -- wins this puppy in a landslide. OMG. I don't want to say Mattek-Sands is flamboyant, but she makes Miley Cyrus look like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
   Honorable mention goes to Tomas Berdych for his shirt with sky blue and white vertical stripes. What, was he moonlighting on the Argentine national soccer team? As a basketball referee?
   Check out both players' outfits and other fashion misses at http://tennis.si.com/2014/01/16/australian-open-fashion-misses-novak-djokovic-victoria-azarenka/.
   Best predictions -- Before the tournament, Geoff MacDonald of the New York Times wrote player capsules of "Six Who Could Challenge the Usual Suspects." Among them were Wawrinka, Li and Bouchard.
   Best line -- Sports Illustrated's incomparable Jon Wertheim wrote online that Wawrinka's performance in the first set of the final "should be framed and put in a museum." See "Fifty parting thoughts from the Australian Open" at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/tennis/news/20140126/australian-open-50-thoughts-stanislas-wawrinka-li-na/.
   Best names -- The aforementioned Garbine Muguruza, and Luksika Kumkhum. 
   Most tiresome commercial -- Melbourne is a wonderful city, but did we have to be reminded of it every five minutes with those mannequins and that jingle that will reverberate in my head for the next 20 years? As Jerry Seinfeld says on his hilarious CD, "We all get it."
   On the other hand, as one viewer commented online: "These (Melbourne) ads beat the hell out of the (ones) from those disgusting financial institutions that led to the global economic breakdown in 2008. Now these banks are right back doing the same crap."
   No. 1 Stanford def. No. 69 Princeton 7-0 at Stanford. No. 1 singles: No. 6 Kristie Ahn def. Lindsay Graff 6-1, 6-4. Clinching match: No. 94 Ellen Tsay def. No. 62 Alanna Wolff 6-0, 6-3 at No. 3. Note: Princeton coach Laura Granville returned to her alma mater. She won NCAA singles titles in 2000 and 2001 and reached a career-high No. 28 in the world in 2003. Team records: Stanford 2-0, Princeton 1-1.

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