2013 Australian Open Coverage

2013 Australian Open coverage direct from Melbourne!

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Australian Open Recollections

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By James A. Crabtree

The Aussie Open is over and this means constant therapy and prescription pills until the French Open.

Regardless, here are some pointless observations, rumours, thoughts and complete randomness that needs to be shared.

1. Fred Stolle said, adamantly, a few days before the tournament that “Djokovic will win it all unless he breaks his leg.” Not only was he right but I do hate it when old people get it so so right.

2. During the qualifying rounds I got to know a guy I simply referred to as Security Guard Joe. Our conversations were like those you expect to share whilst drinking  a brew with an old guy at a bar.

“Got any good bets?” he asked.

Monica Puig, I’d say she will reach round 3, at least.” I responded boldly.

“Good. I’ll put some money down.”

I was wrong, need to avoid Security Guard Joe.

3. Bernie Tomic was the only non-seeded player to list Monaco as his residence, so somebody good is doing his accounts! According to rumour the young Australian was given 32 different racquets by Yonex to trial. He chose the 31st and is happy with it. Lets hope he is not as picky with shoes.

4. Djokovic should be featured in the next video by PSY, of Gangnam Style fame. He really should be, the guy just cant stop doing the dance.

5. Ever wondered why so many players look so clean cut? Wonder no more as the Australian Open featured a “Player Beauty Bar.”

6. Sloane Stephens had roughly 17,000 twitter followers before her match with Serena Williams. One little win later and she had 35,000. She now has over 60,000.

7. Spoke to an old Czech reporter who has been coming to the Open since 1991. He had some great tales, including the legend that Marcelo Rios spent $300,000 in the casino in 1998, the year he reached the final as the number one seed. Wow.

8. The media received a very cool media pack, sunscreen, that included a little towel, pen, mini fan, media guide and a USB stick that is not compatible with my computer….ARGHH.

Also, some journalists partook in a special Cardio Tennis session run by Tennis Australia. All athletes (I use that word very loosely) took themselves far too seriously, and all were panting like poodles on a hot summers day after only five minutes action. One journalist by the name of Crabtree was awesome and won a towel but we shall go into no further detail of these incredible exploits. ;)

9. Bumped into Security Guard Joe. Luckily for me he didn’t put a bet on Monica Puig because he couldn’t remember her name.

“My shift is over soon mate, got any other good bets?” he asked.

Del Potro is probably due a good run,” I suggested.

“Del Potro? “

“Yeah, the Argentinian. He should go deep, I’d put a dollar on him.” I said.

Security Guard Joe left quickly like I was Old Biff with a sports Almanac from Back to the Future 2. Del Potro lost later that day in the third round to Jeremy Chardy. I am not Old Biff, and really need to avoid Security Guard Joe for the rest of the tournament.

10. Stan vs Novak, for many this was the match of the tournament – can’t stop thinking about this one and a possible alternate reality where Stan got it then cruised through the rest of the tournament. Stan was amazing, up 1 set and 5-2 in the second. Imagine if he had capitalised and become the other Swiss with a slam.

11. The Media restaurant never once skimmed on portions. Thanks guys, but more dessert options next time, please.

12. Beneath Rod Laver Arena I passed a guy I thought I recognised, some small time Aussie player I thought. I said “Hey mate,” and he responded with a “Hey Mate” of his own. I stopped for a second, hang on, that wasn’t the Aussie I thought it was and this guy is wearing Nike’s with a hint of pink. That was bloody Roger Federer.

13. Popped in to see the stringers and one old time doubles player had a tension of 33lbs. What the!

14. The old Czech reporter told of how he once hit with Andre Agassi, whilst the eight-time grand slam champion was waiting around for Brad Gilbert on a practice court. I am insanely jealous.

15. Where’s Wally. Captain Australia. A bloke with a giant phone. A guy with a giant head. The Heard stole the show at matches featuring Aussie players. This crew should be a perquisite at every grand slam.

Like many of you I am having Aussie Open withdrawals. Hope this offers you some solace. Roll on Roland Garros.

Roger Federer Will Continue to Make History

Roger Federer is excited about the rest of the season.  (Photo credit: Ben Solomon)

Roger Federer: 17-time Grand Slam champion, 6-time Year-End Championships winner, 21-time ATP Masters 1000 champion (he holds the record amount of titles alongside Spaniard, Rafael Nadal), Olympic silver medalist and Olympic gold medalist in the doubles with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. Overall, he has won 76 career singles titles in total, but why am I collating a list of his outstanding career achievements? Well, it is because Roger Federer made it to the semifinals of a Grand Slam and for many tennis players that would be a dream come true, for Federer’s critics, it’s simply not good enough.

World No.2, Roger Federer, was bundled out of the semifinals of the Australian Open by eventual finalist Andy Murray after 5 gruelling sets against the world No.3, not too dissimilar to his Australian Open achievements last year.

At the start of 2012 after Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in four sets during the semifinals of the first Grand Slam of the year, some began to question his future in tennis and if it would be the beginning of his career decline due to his age, after starting a family and having other players emerging and dominating in the major tournaments.

Last year in Rotterdam during the press conferences I heard the former world No.1 being questioned about his career and possible retirement (he went on to win the title in Rotterdam), whether he would ever win another Slam again (Wimbledon 2012 anybody?) and if he believed he would regain his place at the top of the rankings again (on July 16th 2012 he tied Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No.1 after taking back the top spot once more). Prior to these achievements, Roger Federer had been written off in the minds of some people, but in 2013, write him off at your own peril.

After his 2012 semifinal Australian Open defeat, Federer went on to win consecutive titles in Rotterdam (where he defeated Del Potro), Dubai (where he beat Murray) and Indian Wells (once again beating the then-ranked No. 9 Del Potro, No. 2 Nadal and No. 11 Isner, all in straight sets).

His success continued back in Europe where he was successful in the final against Tomas Berdych on the controversial blue clay in Madrid and won a record 5th Cincinnati title against world No.1 Novak Djokovic. His victories continued on his beloved grass courts of Wimbledon where he was crowned champion for the seventh time against Andy Murray and two weeks later he was avenged by the Brit in the final of the Olympics where he was awarded the Olympic silver medal.

His 2012 season did not end too badly either with back-to-back final appearances in hometown Basel and at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the 02 Arena in London.

There is no doubt that current world No.1 Novak Djokovic and world No.3 Andy Murray are a formidable force on the tennis court and the ‘Novandy’ battles could serve up a rivalry lasting several more years, but whilst Roger Federer is around, he still has the ability to beat the top players – after all he is still one of them. If Federer remains healthy, he may go on to win another major, let’s remember what he achieved last year. Could 2013 be a bit of history repeating? For many Federer fans, they are hoping so and they never give up on their hero.

Ahead of the Australian Open, Federer had not played a tournament going into the first Grand Slam of the year and by his own admission, he was pleased to reach the semis with very little match practice prior to the tournament:

“So I go from here with a good feeling for the year. I didn’t play a tournament leading in, so now obviously I know where my level is at.”

Murray may have knocked Federer out of the semifinals, but has that knocked his confidence or willingness to improve? Of course not…

“I have even more time to work on my game, work on my fitness this year. It’s something I’m excited about.”

With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray frequently taking centre stage in Grand Slam finals and with the imminent return of Rafael Nadal after his lengthy injury battle with his knee, domination is something which Roger Federer will have to fight for, but he is a sportsman and losing is a learning experience that teaches you to work harder.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion is often referred to as arguably one of the greatest of all time (GOAT) players and as long as the Swiss maestro has the desire to continue playing, he will endure fighting amongst the greatest for more Grand Slam glory and to continue making history. For this reason I would not write him off for future success, after all, he is Roger Federer.

The “ChiChi” Train Keeps Rolling

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What makes a successful doubles pairing?

Of course there are the obvious things, like a dominant serve, a quality volley or solid groundstrokes. However, sometimes the most important thing in crucial situations is not the technical tennis, but the chemistry of the team. The most successful teams trust each other’s judgement completely, which allows them to act on both individual and team instincts on the biggest points. However, this bond doesn’t come overnight. Two of the greatest doubles teams of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan and Venus and Serena Williams, have spent a lifetime developing this chemistry; the American sibling pairs have amassed a staggering 25 Grand Slams titles between them.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, while not related by blood, have perhaps the next best thing.

For what they lack in size, as they stand at just 5’5” and 5’4” respectively, they make up for it in guile, passion and craftiness. While each made great strides individually in singles in 2012, the Italians also ruled the doubles court; their history-making year began with a run to the Australian Open finals at the #11 seeds, where they lost to the unseeded pairing of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva.

Errani and Vinci’s exploits in 2012 were reminiscent to those that the fellow-BFF tandem of Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta put together in 2010. Dulko and Pennetta won seven titles that year, including the WTA Championships in Doha; they ended the year as No. 1 and finally got their slam at the 2011 Australian Open.

Following the loss Down Under, Errani and Vinci went on a tear, winning WTA events in Acapulco, Monterrey, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In addition, they came out on top of Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko in three sets to triumph at Roland Garros, and dominated Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in two to win the US Open. They ascended to the No. 1 ranking in September and finished the year in the top spot.

When Errani and Vinci returned to Australia in 2013, with one less “1” next to their seeding, the pair came full circle. 

Much of the Australian Open doubles tournament’s narrative focused on the Williams sisters, the “de facto best team in the world regardless of the rankings.” There were calls, perhaps unfair ones, for the Williams sisters to be bumped to the top seeding. The duo only played two of the four slams in 2012, in addition to the Olympics. Facing off against the 12th-seeded Americans in the quarterfinals, Errani and Vinci appeared determined to prove their worth. The Americans served for the match twice in the second set and led 3-0 in the third, but the Italians would rally for a 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 win. Although the Williams sisters won Wimbledon in 2012 and took home Olympic gold, the Italians did just as much winning on the biggest stages last year. Once a team learns how to win together, it’s a hard habit to break.

The tandem defeated the Cinderella story of the tournament, wildcard Australians Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to win their third major championship. ”Our strength is that we always play together,” Vinci said, after winning the title. “We went out there today with lots of grit, we really wanted to win.”

In the last four slams, the Italians have amassed a 20-1 record, the only loss coming in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to Hlavackova and Hradecka. They now hold 14 doubles titles total, including their three majors. Prior to this stretch, the pair had never won a title greater than an International-level WTA event.

Sometimes, continued success can bring about ego trips and adversely affect a team’s chemistry. For example, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, who won three grand slam doubles titles together, had a notorious falling out at an exhibition match in Chile in 2000; when Kournikova agreed with a lines judge about a disputed call, Hingis retorted, “Do you think you are the queen? Because I am the queen.” A screaming match featuring the throwing of flowers, vases and trophies reportedly followed afterwards in the locker room.

Conversely, all of their success has appeared to make Errani and Vinci’s friendship stronger than ever; as far as we know, the biggest off-court spat the Italians have ever had was spurred on by the question: “Who can keep it up for longer?”

http://youtu.be/rRzeLcADnkY

 

“The Choke of the Year:” Victoria Azarenka Behind The Mic

Victoria Azarenka takes a medical timeout. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Barring a toe injury that kept her from finishing a warm-up event in Brisbane, Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match all year. There have been a few tense moments during her matches in Australia, most notably when she fell behind a break to American Jamie Hampton in the third, and most recently when she squandered five match points against Hampton’s compatriot Sloane Stephens. But the World’s No. 1 has been solid when it matters most and finds herself in her second consecutive Australian Open final.

If only she could be as clutch when she trades the racquet for a microphone.

In another serious gaffe, the Belorussian spoke to Sam Smith after her win over Stephens:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUbWztL4ozQ&w=560&h=315]

The crux of Smith’s question spoke to Azarenka’s “difficulties” in finishing off the feisty American, who was in her first Slam semifinal. However, the former player and commentator was referring to the medical timeout Azarenka took before the start of the final game, one that lasted nearly ten minutes and required the top seed to leave the court.

Evidently under the impression that Smith was asking about her inability to serve out the match at 5-3, Azarenka laughed off the scary prospect of having avoided “the choke of the year” and admitted to feeling “overwhelmed…one step away from the final.”

Smith’s first question made a brief reference to the timeout, but when she got no answer, she moved on. The decision not to press Azarenka about her apparent injury, both by Smith and later Tom Rinaldi, only fueled the speculation further and gave the defending champion more rope with which to hang herself.

To Smith she admitted, “I just couldn’t lose, that’s why I was so upset!” When Rinaldi asked her why she left the court, she said she could not breathe and had “chest pain.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldpEmOoIsL4&w=560&h=315]

By the time she made it the formal press conference, Azarenka faced a lengthy interrogation about her injuries and their legitimacy. Azarenka defended herself and called her prior diction “my bad.” Critical of the MTO process, Patrick McEnroe called for an overhaul of the rule itself so players like Azarenka are not “able to manipulate the rules.”  Stephens’ coach David Nainkin called what happened to his charge “cheating within the rules.”

All of this came days after her battle with Hampton, who was visibly hampered despite bringing her higher-ranked opponent to the brink of defeat. During another one of her now-infamous on-court interviews, Azarenka accidentally implied Hampton’s injury was not as bad as it seemed, quipping, “Can I have a back problem?”

Hampton was later revealed to have two herniated discs.

How can the woman who can seemingly do no wrong on the court be so inept the moment she steps off of it? She combines perfectly timed, almost balletic groundstrokes with a boxer image, usually taking the court with earbuds in and hoodie up. Prickly between points, her signature celebratory moves include finger spinning and tongue wagging. Often (to quote rival Maria Sharapova) “extremely injured,” she has become notorious for withdrawing from smaller events only to show up on the biggest stages playing flawless tennis.

A woman that cannot afford even one bad quote, Azarenka is quickly compiling a chapbook full of verbal “oops,” one big enough for the tennis community to want to ride their No. 1 out of town on a rail.

But before we burn a 23-year-old woman at the stake, let us remember with whom we are dealing. Victoria Azarenka is, above all things, an athlete. The “swagger” for which many deride her is proof of that. What goes on with an athlete’s mind and body is sacred to them and ultimately irrelevant to the task at hand.

As Azarenka was asked about her “difficulties,” there was no doubt that she believed Smith (and others) were referring to her near  “Choke of the Year.” How often do we criticize players for blaming injuries on missed opportunities? Yet here is a woman who made no excuses, blamed mind before body, and the media calls for a crucifixion.

There are many things about Victoria Azarenka that grate. Her honesty should not be one of them.

Tsonga and an opportunity lost

Federer v Tsonga

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE –

As tough as Federer’s draw has been on paper this was his first real test.

Jo- WilfredTsonga is a big, fast and intimidating player who knows what it feels like to beat his rival in five sets.

Add to that Tsonga’s assorted collection of thunderous ground shots, booming serves, tantalizing volleys and a crowd he keeps enchanted, Federer had a problem.

Most people attending, aside from those who had national pride or an unhealthy devotion at stake, were happy to see either man win.

The first four sets were shared evenly and at that point both players deserved to win. Consistency, fitness and strategy were comparable, although Tsonga’s style was generally more flamboyant. By this point people watching were thinking up elaborate excuses why they wouldn’t be into work tomorrow morning, in anticipation of a Wawrinka Djokovic battle royale.

“Jo was really pressing forward today, playing aggressive, pushing me to come up with the plays and get one more extra ball back.  I think I did well.  I’ve been moving well all week, or the last couple weeks.  You know, I guess also not having played any tournaments leading in, today was tricky because I haven’t been in a match like this for some time, and I’m happy I came through.” said a relieved and happy Federer who added to his own history books with his 10th straight Australian Open semi-final.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went toe to toe with Federer but failed to deliver when it really mattered most, losing 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3. Tsonga was bidding to deny Federer any more statistical achievements and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semi-final.

The Frenchman had taken the fourth set brilliantly seizing the opportunities when they presented themselves. Sadly he started the fifth without the desperation needed to outlast the most successful player of all time. Something was missing and with it Federer’s confidence multiplied.

But luck was on Federer’s side during this kind spirited affair. Even whilst a break up  he was the fortunate recipient of a net cord that dribbled over the net, with Tsonga fruitlessly running all the way past the net and into Federer’s court to which Tsonga, with a wry smile, could only mock hit a ball at the Swiss master.

Tsonga’s downcast expression following his defeat was more striking than the words he used afterwards when speaking to the press.

“You know, I’m a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But, you know, in other way I played a good match.  I was solid.  I was there every time.  I keep my level of concentration, you know, really high all times. You know, I just gave my best today, so I’m proud of that. But, you know, I’m not happy to lose, and I already look forward for the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time.”

Everybody is so quick to comment on Federer’s age, almost without realisation how old everybody else is getting. Tsonga and Berdych are both 27, David Ferrer is 30. Their athletic biological clock is ticking by too and all three need to renounce their membership from the illustrious ‘nearly men’ group.

A subdued Tsonga reflected afterwards of the Federer he lost to today but beaten at Wimbledon two years ago. “In 2011 I think it was not a really good year for him, and I’m sure he’s more in a good shape. He was in a good shape last year and he’s in a good shape at the beginning of this year, so I think it’s a different player.”

A different player Andy Murray, Federer’s next opponent, should be wary of.

A Quick Pick of their Brain – Mark Woodforde

Mark Woodforde

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

 

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE – During a Jacobs Creek Promotion whilst being hydrated by a seriously good glass of rosé I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Woodforde, 12 time grand slam doubles champion, winner of four singles titles and the surprise, and often forgotten, 1996 Australian Open semi-finalist.

Q- Mark, tell us a little behind your Snauwaert racquet with the famous 12×14 pattern as opposed to the traditional 18×20?

I first started using the racquet early on in an effort to control the ball and gain more spin. I was on a trip to the European clay and one of eight in a team using that pattern. My progression was more accelerated than the others and that turned some heads. There were matches where my opponents called over the referee wondering if that string pattern was legal, because of the results I started to have.

I knew it didn’t give me an overwhelming advantage. I know when anyone improves their form or improves their ranking people are always asking why and how are they doing that? People just pointed out the racquet issue because it was different.

The last few years I have been trying to develop a racquet with a string pattern that looks more conventional but still attain the same level of spin.

Q. What would be the advantage for a singles player to play more doubles matches?

I think we would see more natural volleying skills and more varied matchups. Players are just hoping for the easy put away and never learn the confidence in how to play the volley from the service line.

I think it would be great to have the top singles players sign a contract and agree to play doubles at one of the four slams and a few of the 1000 events. On the flip side of that it would be great to see a doubles specialist do the reverse at a singles event.

You look back at the older generations and the players who played both singles and doubles had the all court game, and never looked out of sorts at the net.

Q. Tell us something we don’t know about Todd Woodbridge

(Laughs) Todd fancies himself on the dance floor, on the tennis court and as a chef. There were times he would cook for all of us and he is pretty good. Sometimes you would get back to the apartment and he would be preparing food for all of us, our partners included.

Todd was a lot more strict about food during our playing days. I was the guy at Davis Cup who would throw down four courses, leaving our trainer to scratch his head, although I do have to watch the portions now. Lucky my wife is the master-chef in our house.

Todd has been talking of his personal trainer, who works wonders and how he has been seeing him four nights a week, but I am yet to see the effects and I suspect he could be some sort of phantom. (laughs)

Q.Tell us about your role in Aussie player development

I started working with (Matthew)Ebden and (Marinko) Matosevic. I worked with them for twelve months to help get them out of the Challenger mentality and playing more aggressive tennis.

The last few seasons I’ve been working with the juniors and their transition to seniors.

I’m more opinionated about Australian tennis players staying true to be more attacking all court players. That’s how we have always been and I don’t want to see that erased. I love watching guys like (James) Duckworth, guys who are willing to roll the dice and cause headaches for their opponents.

 

Mark Woodforde continues to work with Australian junior players, assisting in developing the next wave of Australian champions.

The Spanish Inquisition

David Ferrer during his 5 set win

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE –

It is difficult to fathom how hard Nicholas Almagro strikes the ball.

He glares with the eyes of a temperamental bull, but hits with the flowing grace and control of a Matador. An interesting scenario, Almagro uses his racquet as a muleta to tease and finish a pesky ferret.

A method that was proving successful for the first time.

Ferrer has beaten Almagro all twelve times they have played, including 5 losses in finals, a matter that doesn’t sit well with Almagro. “I don’t want to think about that. He is the No. 4 of the world. He is the favourite. He beat me many times, but many matches were close.”

Still, this was only their second meeting at a grand slam, and surprisingly Almagro looked like the player with more experience.

Ferrer was coming up against a player who was in rhythm, a player who controlled the rallies with the crosscourt backhand, then owned it with a backhand down the line.

Only one break of serve separated them in the first and second set, proving how many matches are decided by just a few crucial points.

Still, Ferrer was being rushed and uncharacteristically antagonised, vocalising his disdain and even swiping his racquet down on the court.

Meanwhile Almagro had all but passed the finish line and banked a cheque of $500,000, the guaranteed sum for a grand slam semi-final and $250,000 more than the quarterfinal purse.

Obstinate to the last, Ferrer dug in with Almagro serving for the match two sets to love up and 5-4. Now the tension the favourite had felt was all gone. Subsequently Ferrer edged himself forward on the baseline whilst his opponent attempted to win by pushing the ball.

Suddenly Ferrer was playing his typical game, taking the set and reminding his opponent that he still had to finish the quarter final. Ferrer reflected, “Well, it’s very difficult to win [against]Nico [Almagro], no? I think he played better than me in the first set. There was a break.  I play bad in myself in one break.  In the second, I didn’t play good, no?  In the third, I feel better with my game. I can play more aggressive.”

Ferrer had stolen the momentum that Almagro craved and now everyone expected that the match would go the distance.

Indeed, the fifth set came but only after an unbearably tense fourth set, where again Almagro squandered his chances, twice serving again for the match before losing in the tiebreak. “I think the tiebreak of the fourth set I played very good. And in the fifth, he was cramping, problems with his leg, so it was easier for me,” reflected Ferrer to reporters of his 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory.

Almagro, nursing a suspected injured groin and wearing an incredulous smile ran out of drive, reeling at the opportunity lost.

The two players hugged afterwards, their level of friendship striking after such destructive circumstances, with Ferrer humble of his achievement, “I try to fight every point, every game. I know all the players in important moments we are nervous. I know that. I try to do my best. Today I was close to lost, sure. But finally I come back, no?”

Ferrer progresses to the semi-final where he will face either Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych.

“Bark or Bite?”: A Defense of Bojana Jovanovski

Whether or not you like the way she grunts, Bojana Jovanovski made plenty of noise in Melbourne.

Yesterday, the up-and-coming Sloane Stephens fought off a mid-match surge from a game opponent to reach her debut Grand Slam quarterfinal. After taking the deciding set 7-5, the bubbly American was pleased to have put on a show for the crowd, and promised another one when she played her mentor and idol, Serena Williams.

Leave it to the media to turn a show into a circus.

As the match unfolded, Stephens seemed to establish an unassailable advantage over her equally inexperienced opponent, Bojana Jovanovski. A heavy hitting but inconsistent player from Serbia, Jovanovski was deemed a beatable foe, one who would easily bend to the will of the quickly rising American teenager.

As the second set reached a critical juncture, however, Stephens began to retreat and revert to a safer, more defensive style. Jovanovski had been missing badly up to that point, so waiting for the error was not a completely ill conceived strategy. Yet, in doing so, she made an almost fatal mistake: giving Bojana Jovanovski a short ball is like feeding live bait to a shark.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKNzdqJaED8&w=560&h=315

The No. 3 Serb hits groundstrokes like missiles, and is an exciting player to watch when she is striking the ball well. Most comfortable playing in Australia, she had her breakthrough tournament in Sydney two years ago where, as a qualifier, she reached her first Premier semifinal. A week later, she pushed then-world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva to three tight sets at this very tournament. Since then, she won her first WTA title last summer in Baku and is also a player on the rise, give or take a few hiccups and patches of poor form.

Despite her obvious talent, she is still better known for the quirkier aspects of her life and bio. For one, not a televised match of Jovanovski’s goes by without a retelling of the embarrassing story where the Serb traveled to the famed WTA event in San Diego via Carlsbad only to wind up in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Quirkier still is her unusual grunt. Oft-described as a sound similar to a sneeze (“ha-choo!”), it is definitely one of the stranger sounds one hears during a tennis match, but is not nearly as off-putting as many seem to think. Having watched the majority of her US Open singles campaign, I can say that it was hardly as noticeable in person as it is when amplified by the on-court microphones.

But as Jovanovski began to take control of a match she seemed well and truly out of last night, the focus centered not on her screaming winners, but on the alleged screaming itself. Stephens lost the plot and allowed her fiery opponent back into the match. Instead of giving praise to Jovanovski for not giving up and playing some inspiring offense, she was castigated, mocked and name-called for her grunting.

A lot of people take issue over noises that aren’t perceived to imply exertion. “How does shrieking assist a person in hitting a ball?” asks a public often corralled by visibly disgusted commentators (for more on grunting and the hindrance rule, I refer you to unseededandlooming’s comprehensive take on the matter). But as bizarre as Jovanovski’s grunt sounds, it is still a grunt at its very core.

And if you stopped to watch the Serbian bombshell scurry about the baseline, you would see a shockingly high level of exertion, mixed with some extreme torque and intensity.

What makes Jovanovski so electrifying on the court is the reckless abandon with which she hits every ball. The notion that “a tennis ball is there to be hit” is taken to delirious extremes during her matches, much to the delight of those who enjoy “Big Babe Tennis.” In fact, it was her tentative serve, the one shot in her repertoire that lacks her almost hysterical punch, that did her in late in the third set against the American, who eventually regrouped to serve out the match herself.

In her first Slam fourth round appearance, Bojana Jovanovski did herself proud. She recovered from a lackluster beginning and found her range in impressive fashion, only to fall just short of the finish line. In all, the week that the Serbian star had was a tremendous effort, and definitely as much noise with her tennis as she did with her grunting.

You may not like Bojana’s grunt from an aesthetic point of view, but it is hard to argue that her bite doesn’t match her bark.

Another Federer Quarter

Federer after his straight sets win

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE – History was not on the side of Canadian Milos Raonic. In fact when the vast majority of the tour face Federer, statistics and history are not on their side.

No Canadian, not including defectors, had ever made it to a grand slam quarter final. Federer on the other hand has reached the grand slam quarterfinals 34 consecutive times. That is 136 victories, a hefty number to shift, meaning Federer doesn’t lose unless his opponent truly deserves to be there. It also means that Federer is a perfect employee, never taking a day off.

The big Canuck is an interesting specimen, duly if Andy Roddick and Richard Krajicek had a baby, Milos Raonic would be the result, although no speculation exists for that union to ever take place.

Indeed, if you squinted your eyes and used your imagination only slightly, you might well have been watching a Federer Roddick match, and the result of those was usually fail-safe.

This was never going to resemble a clay court match, with Milos going for glory early with big serves or cracking groundstrokes, knowing full well if he tried to out rally he was doomed. Federer meanwhile relished the ball in play, bullying the Raonic backhand every chance he had.

“I think I played tactically well tonight and was able to keep the points short on my own service games, used the 1-2 punch. That was obviously also a good thing tonight.” Federer stated in his post match press conference.

Quickly Federer started to read the massive Raonic serve, although initially he could only muster a block return although instinctively returning the ball from within the baseline.

Raonic was in trouble when 2-3 down in the first set facing a few break points. Calmly he fired two Sampras style aces, causing all worry of a break to simply vanish.

At 4-5 the tension built again, giving Federer a set point. As has so often been the case the computer assistance was switched on, unfairly in Federer’s advantage, prompting Raonic to net a relatively easy volley.

Of considerable interest is Federer’s chameleon approach, feeling the need to better his opponent when it comes to their particular strength. To which Federer stated, “Important obviously was first to focus on my own serve before even thinking about how to return Milos. But I did a good job tonight.  As the match went on, I started to feel better. But that’s kind of normal.”

The second set continued much like the first although Raonic held his nerve longer. This time the set wasn’t decided until 3-3 in the tiebreak. Federer took the advantage by delivering a Wawrinka inspired backhand down the line that could only make you wonder if great backhands were given away for free in Swiss cereal boxes.

Federer’s scream of joy directed towards his entourage was heard throughout the arena, whilst Raonic ambled despondently to his chair, with more on mind his than just the overwhelming score line. Raonic told reporters, “well, long story short, until probably 45 minutes to an hour before the match, I wasn’t even sure I’d play.  I rushed over to get a quick MRI on my foot.  I was having issues walking.  I got the clear to play after that.  I just had an anaesthesia injection into my foot.  I was given the go to play.”

Subsequently Raonic stumbled to open the third set, and kept on stumbling. Federer meanwhile was on autopilot, treating the crowd to a level of on court purity that only a very small amount of players experience, breezing to victory 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.

“Most of the times you play good, you know. When you play very good, that’s rare. So just have to try to have as many good days or great days as you can, and that’s why I push hard in practice and keep myself in shape.”

Federer faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the next round marking his 35th straight quarterfinal.

 

Crumbling Caroline: A Deposed Queen Struggles to Regain Lost Crown

A shadow of her former self, Caroline Wozniacki's loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova provokes more questions than answers.

With a three-set loss to the resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova today in Melbourne, Caroline Wozniacki has come full circle in the worst possible way. This isn’t simply the kind of match the former No. 1 used to win. This was literally a match the she was winning as of a little more than a year ago. In fact, the Russian powerhouse has been an interesting foil to Wozniacki during her rise to, mainstay at, and now fall from, the top of the WTA Rankings.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KwxT4sRrto&w=560&h=315]

Flash back to the 2009 US Open. Kuznetsova was the higher ranked player, the reigning French Open champion. Wozniacki was the underdog; an underpowered youngster who’d had some good results, but had yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Under the bright New York lights, Wozniacki pulled out the first of her infamous Houdini-esque escapes from the grips of her more aggressive rivals. Despite lacking any notable weapon, the Dane stayed with her more celebrated opponent and outlasted Kuznetsova in a final set tiebreaker.

Wozniacki parlayed the upset into a run to her first Slam final, not only leapfrogging her own progress, but also dusting her peers in the process. A year later, she was No. 1 in the world.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Nb7DrkDejo&w=560&h=315]

By 2011, the Dane was no longer the up and comer for whom everyone rooted. Resigned to her role as a “Slamless No. 1,” Wozniacki continued to plug away, but there were chinks in the proverbial armor, ones of which Kuznetsova hoped to take advantage. Two years since their last major meeting, the Russian had fallen out of the top 10, but looked fitter and looked primed for revenge. Playing expert aggression for a set and a half, Sveta dominated the top seed, and reinforced all the criticisms that had already grown from whispers to a roar.

Wozniacki was too defensive. She could not hit winners. How was she the best in the world?

Wozniacki’s A game might not have been enthralling, but it was still effective, especially against a tiring Kuznetsova, who faded short of the finish line and allowed the beleaguered best take control of the match.

Another year on, and Wozniacki must be wondering where all the good times have gone.

It’s hard to argue that the Dane’s game is any different than it was when she was dominating the rankings. She has not made the kinds of improvements one would expect of a 22-year-old, but one can hardly assert that she has regressed.

Instead, the big hitters who had been erratic during her time at the top retooled and refurbished their games, but doing so outfoxed more than just her crafty defense. They obliterated her unshakable assurance, her almost haughty self-belief.

There was once an understanding that if Wozniacki played her game, the big hitters would eventually implode. Even today when Kuznetsova failed to break the Dane at 4-4 in the third, the consensus was that the Russian had blown her chance, and Caroline would pounce on Sveta’s inevitable mistakes.

But unfortunately for Wozniacki, it’s not 2009 anymore. It’s not even 2011 anymore. Kuznetsova was far from perfect over another three-set battle, but she got it right just enough to send her wily opponent home before the second week for the fourth straight Slam.

How can the former rankings queen regain her lost crown? Her game looks as static as ever, and her insistence on retaining her father Piotr as her coach continues to raise eyebrows. But what always made the difference for Wozniacki wasn’t her explosive groundstrokes, but her unflappable confidence. If she can regain that, she will undoubtedly be a factor once again, but until then, Caroline Wozniacki continues to wade through the rubble of a fallen empire.

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