Australian Open 2011: a rave review

The crap has been cleared from the seats, the sweat has been mopped from the court surface and the last of the two hundred sponsors has been thanked for the final time.  What a show it has been in Melbourne at the first of the main events in the year’s tennis programme – the Australian Open.  And it wasn’t just some terrific tennis on display.

Leading lights were upstaged by upstarts, veteran performers took their final bow and some of the theatrics were positively pantomime.  Outlandish kangaroo gaffes?  Embarrassing text messages?  Murray in the final?  Yes, this Slam really did have it all.  As the curtain closes and the British press prepare to heckle poor Andy, let us review the highlights and lowlights.  Aussie, Aussie, Aussie?  Oi, oi, oi!

BEST MATCH

1. Francesca Schiavone (ITA) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 6-4 1-6 16-14 – The women’s game is very often written off these days as the frilly support act to the men’s main event.  But no one told the decidedly un-frilly Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova as they produced what has rightfully been lauded the performance of the tournament in their fourth round encounter.  Full of guts, energy and determination, the former Grand Slam champs staged an Isner-Mahut-worthy epic – but with rallies.  It was the slight-yet-strong Schiavone that somehow managed to reach every corner of the court and took the final set 16-14 after a marathon 4 hours 44 minutes – a record breaker for women’s tennis.  Bravo, ladies.

3. David Nalbandian (ARG) bt Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) 3-6 6-4 3-6 7-6 9-7 – As soon as this repeat of the Wimbledon 2002 final was drawn out of the hat (or large silver cup) for the first round, the home crowd and international pundits alike were salivating at the prospect.  It did not disappoint.  With neither player the force they once were, this was all about pride and Hewitt trying to prove to the Aussie audience that he still has plenty of homegrown grit.  In the end, though, it was “Fat Dave” who took the final set 9-7 in the wee small hours.  He then quit against Lithuania’s Richard Berankis in round two.

3. Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) bt Robin Soderling (SWE) 1-6 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-2 – Despite the earlier-than-expected exits of Rafa and Roger, this was surely the biggest upset of the men’s Aussie Open this year.  Cold and cunning Soderling, who had recently collected cups in Paris and Brisbane and moved up to #4 in the rankings, was outfoxed in the last 16 by the wily, wild-haired Alexandr Dolgopolov, the surprise package of the Slam.  The match rolled into five sets but it was the unseeded Ukranian who marched to the quarter finals in exceptional form.

STAR PLAYER

1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) – As usual, in the British press at least, it was all Andy, Andy, Andy, Rafa, Roger, Andy.  And, once again, the man they call Nole (I still don’t know why) made his usual silent assassin progress to the semis, dropping just one set and taking out Tomas Berdych along the way.  He then defeated Federer in their second successive Grand Slam semi final – this time in straight sets – and, ultimately, kicked Andy Murray’s arse in the final.  With minimal fuss, nerves of steel and complete humility, Djokovic proved that, on his day, he can be the best in the world.

2. Li Na (CHN) – If there was a trophy for the best personality of the tournament it should surely go to Li Na.  Aside from being the first person from China ever to reach a Grand Slam final, she also proved she is utterly charming, genuinely funny and refreshingly honest (when asked what motivated her to beat world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in their semi final she simply replied: “Prize money.”)  This was the tournament where Li proved she is a real asset to the game and with absence of some bigger names she could be a contender for future finals.

3. Kim Clijsters (BEL) – Everyone loves Kim Clijsters.  And rightly so.  She is charming.  She is funny.  She has had a child and she is the best female player on the planet right now.  Since her return to the circuit at the US Open 2009, she has won three of the last six Grand Slams, now including her first Aussie Open trophy.  Here’s hoping it’s the first of more before she leaves us again, as rumour has it she’s only sticking around for one more year…

BREAKOUT PLAYER

1. Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) – Yeah, I didn’t know who he was until he put Soderling out.  But the man who had never previously been beyond the third round of any Grand Slam and has never been ranked inside the top 30 certainly caused a stir and had surely had many a journo silently mouthing “Dol-go-pol-ov” to make sure they got it right.  He really could be doing with a haircut though.

2. Petra Kvitova (CZE) – Arguably, Kvitova got her big break at Wimbledon last year when her fine run of form got her all the way to the semis before she was stopped by Serena.  But she proved in Melbourne that it wasn’t a one-off.  This time she stunned home favourite Sam Stosur in round three before making it as far as the quarters.  When asked if she would like to reach the top 5 soon she responded: “Who wouldn’t?”  Indeed.

3. Bernard Tomic (AUS) – With Hewitt, Stosur, Groth and Molik all falling early on, Aussie hopes were piled on to the shoulders of German-born, Croatian-blooded 18-year-old Bernard (yes, 18-year-old BERNARD) Tomic.  And he did all right.  After straight sets wins in the first two rounds he came up against Rafa in round three and put in a decent shift – leading 4-0 in the second set at one point – before being shown the door.  He’ll probably win a Slam before Murray.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

1. Rafael Nadal (ESP) – Yes, he was playing well and, yes, it’s bad luck he sustained an(other) injury.  But it’s still all very disappointing, isn’t it?  Here he was, the best player in the world, on the brink of becoming the first man since the arena-inspiring Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.  The “Rafa Slam” they were calling it and “they” were certain it would happen.  Then – *ping* – bit of trouble with the old leg.  What is it with Melbourne’s courts and Rafa’s legs?  For the second year in a row, Nadal fell at the Aussie Open quarters.  Roger must surely have had a sneaky smirk.

2. Justine Henin (BEL) – If the story of Kim Clijsters’ comeback is one of brilliance then the story of her compatriot’s is something quite different.  Seven-time Grand Slam winner Henin abruptly left tennis in 2008 and even more abruptly returned in 2010, in time to reach the final of last year’s Aussie Open.  But things have been shaky ever since then and after crashing out to Kuznetsova in the third round of this year’s tournament, she announced a second retirement – this time permanent – due to her dodgy elbow.  An unfortunate way for a former champion to bow out.

3. Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) – One of the main talking points at the start of the Slam was the return of former top fiver and US Open champion, Juan Martin Del Potro.  After a year out with wrist issues, was a Clijsters-esque comeback on the cards for the scarily old-looking Argentine?  No.  He was dispatched in round two by Marcos Baghdatis and faces a tough climb back up the rankings in 2011.

MOST AWKWARD MOMENT

1. Caroline Wozniacki’s kangaroo – What’s the best way to react to the press calling you “boring”?  According to the world #1, making up outlandish, fake stories is the answer.  The Great Dane told journalists her leg was bandaged because she was scratched by a kangaroo.  In fact, the real “boring” reason was that she walked into a treadmill.  In perhaps the most bizarre statement ever given in sport, Caroline was presented with an inflatable marsupial by the media and forced to apologise for her fibs.  But hey, it made her more interesting.  Here’s the tall tale in full

2. Kim Clijsters’ text message – Commentator Todd Woodbridge found out the hard way not to text rumours about players – especially those as nice as Kim Clijsters – when the Belgian called him out in front of thousands of spectators.  In an on-court post-match interview, Kim told Todd she saw a text he had sent saying he thought she might be pregnant because “she looks really grumpy and her boobs are bigger.”  With a laugh and a smile – and swift confirmation that she isn’t pregnant – it was brushed aside… but I wonder if Kim’s husband had a word with Woodbridge about him staring at her boobs.  Have a look at the humiliation

3. Li Na’s non-anniversary – In another classic on-court gaffe, commentator Sam Smith insisted in a post-match interview that Li Na’s defeat of Caroline Wozniacki in the semis was extra special because it was also the Chinese player’s wedding anniversary – even though it, um, wasn’t.  Cue Na squinting for her husband in the crowd to make sure that, no, she hadn’t forgotten their anniversary, despite what Smith’s “media notes” said.  Awkward…

Martin McGale

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1 comment so far

  1. […] the fourth time.  Despite losing the Paris Open final earlier today to Petra Kvitova (one of my “Breakout Players” from the Australian Open a few weeks ago), Clijsters will take the top spot again for the first […]


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