By Maud Watson
Answering the Call
As it has so often done in the past, the sport of tennis will once again be rallying to the call to aid victims of another natural disaster, this time the devastating floods in Queensland, Australia where the city of Brisbane has been particularly hard hit. Andy Roddick and Sam Stosur donated money for each ace they hit last week during the Brisbane event, and Stosur and Matthew Ebden will be continuing this trend through the Australian Open. The ATP and WTA have also pledged to follow their example. But the charity won’t stop there. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur plan to participate in another exhibition event similar to last year’s “Hit for Haiti.” It’s sad that with so many tragedies in recent years, organizing these events has practically become second nature, but it’s always something special to see these star athletes coming together for a common cause.
And the Nominees Are
It’s that time of year again, when the sports world looks to who will win one of the prestigious Laureus Awards, and once more, tennis is well represented. Up for Sportsman of the Year is Rafael Nadal. Finishing No. 1 in the world and winning three of the four majors last year (and completing the career Grand Slam in the process), the Spaniard has a glittering résumé but is up against some tough competition with Sebastian Vettel, Manny Pacquiao, Kobe Bryant Andres Iniesta, and Lionel Messi also in the running. On the women’s side, tennis is heavily represented, with Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniaki vying for the honor, while Lindsey Vonn, Jessica Ennis, and Blanka Vlasic round out the other half of the nominees. Stay tuned to find out who will take home top honors.
Top Men’s Seed
The seeds for the Australian Open are out, and no surprise that the powers-at-be at Tennis Australia have essentially stuck by the rankings, naming Rafael Nadal as the No. 1 seed in the men’s draw. There’s no issue with Nadal being named No. 1 given his performances over the course of the 2010 season, though between his recent bout of the flu and Federer’s phenomenal form in Doha (and nod to Davydenko’s performance is also in order), it’s hard to see him as an overwhelming favorite. Throw Soderling’s Brisbane title run and the strong starts of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Roddick into the mix, and Nadal will have his work cut out for him to make it four straight majors.
Top Women’s Seed
As with the men’s field, Tennis Australia also stuck to the women’s No. 1 ranking and named Caroline Wozniaki as the top seed in the 2011 staging of the Aussie Open. As the most consistent performer on the WTA last year, no one should begrudge the Dane her top ranking, but being named the top seed is a bit questionable. Clijsters certainly had the better 2010, winning a major and getting the better of Wozniaki in the year-end championships. Their most recent performances in Sydney would also seem to suggest that Clijsters is quicker off the blocks. But the women’s tour is generally full of surprises, so perhaps Wozniaki will live up to her seed and win her maiden major, quieting the critics who question the legitimacy of her No. 1 ranking.
When Rod Laver speaks, people listen, and in an interview that came out earlier this week, the “Rocket” was quick to say that while Nadal winning the Australian Open would be an amazing achievement, it would not be a Grand Slam. With Laver being the last male to achieve the Grand Slam over 40 years ago (and Graf the last player to do so in 1988), fans and sports pundits are itching to see the feat repeated. But to even consider looking at Nadal’s achievement as a Grand Slam should he go on to take the title in Melbourne would be a disservice to the sport. However short the off season is, it is still an off season – a time to recuperate and allow any niggling injuries to heal. Playing straight through the season and fighting one’s way to the winner’s circle of every major in a calendar year is what makes the true Grand Slam so rare and so special. To his credit, Nadal has not suggested that should he go on to win the title, it be given the same recognition as a calendar-year Grand Slam. It would be the “Nadal Slam,” similar to the “Serena Slam,” that Serena Williams completed with her 2003 Australian Open win. So all power to Nadal if he’s able to achieve a phenomenal feat by simultaneously holding all four majors, but fans will have to wait a little longer to see something as special as that which was achieved by only Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Laver, Margaret Court, and Steffi Graf.