Each Grand Slam has its own style and flavor and although this year’s AO lacked the drama of the ’09 U.S. Open, its best moments could be summed up in the well-worn phrase “mind over body.” I say that because a lot of the matches came down to how well players dealt with personal injuries through mental focus. And even if a player wasn’t ailing, some will wish they had had a checkup with a local shrink before stepping onto the Melbourne grounds.
Serena Williams certainly proved this in her fifth AO title run. Despite looking like a mummy at times, she proved again that her best weapon, aside from her serve, is her sheer will to win. Andy Roddick, on the other hand, lost an opportunity to enter the semis when he abandoned his winning strategy of keeping the points short to help out his injured shoulder during his match against Marin Cilic. Roddick went back to trading groundstrokes from the baseline in the fifth set and let Cilic back in the match.
Mind over body could describe Andy Murray’s performance against Roger Federer in the sense of Murray’s mind, i.e. his gameplan could not defeat Federer’s shotmaking. Why did Murray abandon the aggressive play he’d shown throughout the event in favor of hanging back and waiting for Federer to fall apart? Murray started to put it together in the third set, especially in that tiebreak, but it was too late and even then it looked like physically Murray would limp through another set. Murray’s loss will be overanalyzed for some time but it all comes down to the Scot again showing up in a Grand Slam final without a solid plan.
The worst offender of “mind over body” was Nikolay Davydenko. His backhand error that led him to lose the next thirteen games against Roger Federer is inexplicable and unforgiveable as he probably blew his best chance to win a Slam ever.
Injuries and ongoing physical issues ended up being a recurring story at the AO. Rafael Nadal’s retirement against Andy Murray may have been the biggest story, but Dinara Safina’s ongoing back injury that forced her to quit against Maria Kirilenko may end up being the one we look back on if she struggles again in 2010.
Novak Djokovic will probably take some small comfort in his new No. 2 ranking after many picked him to win. But again, it will take the clay court season to determine if his new fitness regimen and working with Todd Martin will get him any closer to No. 1. This year, probably not. But of all the top 5 players, I give “Nole” the best shot at making it happen in the next few years.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was the inspired play of John Isner making into the the fourth round after his win over Gael Monfils. Sure he ran out of gas against Andy Murray, but it looks like he has found his form and could be a threat especially during the hard court season.
As for Roger Federer, this time last year we all wondered if the king’s reign was at an end. Now he almost looks invincible and ready for his own “second career”. I still see some of the “boys” catching up to him now and then, but like Serena, the only thing he seems to be chasing now is history itself.
Here’s a quick look at my favorite and not so favorite highlights from this year’s AO.
Best Men’s Match: Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny (tied) Juan Martin Del Potro vs. James Blake. – Both of these matches saw great shot making and momentum swings that delighted those willing to hang around for almost 5+ hours to watch both.
Best Women’s Match: Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin – The best women’s final in several years proved these two women are in another league compared to what I call the “bridesmaids” of the tour.
Best Comeback: Nadia Petrova – Overshadowed a bit by Henin’s run was Petrova’s wins over Clijsters and Kuznetsova. Let’s hope her new sunny attitude allows Petrova 2.0 a chance to shine throughout the year.
Too Much Hype Award Maria Sharapova’s dress and Bernard Tomic.