Profanity, swearing, and obscenities flowed with free abandon from players and spectators alike at this year’s Australian Open. Not only verbally, but likely inside the heads of many as certain matches reached their conclusion. No wonder Kim Sears earned rave reviews for modeling a “Parental Advisory” t-shirt during the men’s final. Sometimes the whole event felt like it was being played for two weeks with AC/DC as its soundtrack from start to finish.
Why were things so intense at the Australian Open? Maybe because it felt like so many had something to prove. From Andy Murray wanting to return to the “big four” (more on him in a second), to Nick Kyrgios trying to live up to his country’s expectations, to Serena Williams and her ongoing quest for tennis immortality. It felt like there were more storylines and players to keep up with than usual at a Grand Slam. And that made it a compelling event to keep track of from start to finish, which doesn’t always happen at the majors.
Serena, tested throughout, fended off multiple much younger challengers including Madison Keys who at times overpowered the now No. 1 in their semifinal. Serena later said that Keys would be a future No. 1 and if the 19-year-old American can keep up her recent form, that prediction may well come true sooner rather than later.
Serena then found herself in yet another final versus her “rival” in name only Maria Sharapova. The second set of their final made for compelling stuff with both exhorting themselves at the same time in a match that included a roof closure, vomiting, a hindrance call, and a very emphatic ace on match point just to make sure we, and the umpire who called a let on Serena’s previous ace, all got the message that, yes, Serena is still the one to beat at any major. Though Sharapova was gracious in defeat as always, she likely was thinking at some point, “How many blankety-blank times am I going to lose to this woman?” The answer is probably many more times.
Andy Murray is known for letting us know how he really feels on a tennis court. Throughout his two weeks in Melbourne, he had to fight off rivals in Grigor Dimitrov (still called by many the “future of tennis” although at this point it feels more like an alternative future in another universe) to Kyrgios who got a lot of grief from his tennis elders in Australia for that haircut of his and for expressing himself in no uncertain terms along with breaking racquets.
The best quote to come out of the whole tournament was from Aussie great Fred Stolle who was asked if Kyrgios could learn from the soon to be retired Lleyton Hewitt, not known for being a saint on court either. Stolle responded with “…Lleyton never smashed racquets. Lleyton got annoyed and abused people but he never, he never broke racquets.”
Krygios, despite being the biggest tennis star now down under, got handed really odd court assignments during his two weeks. Some thought that was an effort by “the powers that be” to put the young, foul-mouthed mate in his place. Court scheduling at majors is often a complicated, at times political process. But I doubt it was that intentional to teach Kyrgios a lesson.
Speaking of intentional, did Novak Djokovic really fake many of his very dramatic maladies during his final versus Murray? The consensus is yes. Even my mother, who is a big Djokovic fan, told me after the match, “I could tell he was faking.”
Andy Murray obviously caught on too, but allowed it to vex him so much that it got in the way of him trying to win his first ever Australian Open title. But that wasn’t the sole reason Murray lost. While Murray appeared to make great strides over the two weeks, he still succumbed in that final to his innate nature to get over-emotional during matches at key points. His second serve didn’t do him any favors either. Murray, despite still pouting about what might have been, now finds himself back in the top four ranking wise. Yet it still feels like he’s trailing the other three in that elite tier yet again. Some things never change no matter who you hire as a coach. Whatever one thinks of that final, Djokovic by winning his fifth Australian Open title again proved that his legacy is likely just beginning in terms of being one of the all-time greats.
So what of the other members of that tier – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? Federer’s loss at the hands of Andreas Seppi was a surprise, though many later said that it was probably due to Federer’s lack of an off-season. It was a rough week for Federer as his nation also underwent a currency crisis that immediately devalued some of his earnings. Maybe that will teach Federer a lesson that he can’t accept every high-paying off-season exhibition that he wants anymore.
The same can’t be said of Nadal, who correctly predicted before the event that he was not a favorite to win. Nadal struggled early and then exited at the hands of long-time punching bag Tomas Berdych. So do Federer and Nadal’s losses portend bad seasons up ahead or were their merely unexpected blips? We won’t really know and neither will they although the feeling now is these types of early round losses by both men should not be viewed as the big surprises they once were. Unfortunately, time waits for no one.
While the tennis world shudders at that thought, time seemed to stand still for Venus Williams who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in five years. The 34-year-old Williams continues to play tennis on her terms and that’s how it should be. After beating Camila Giorgi, Williams said, “This old cat has a few tricks still left.” If Williams really does have more than nine lives when it comes to tennis, then we all could be in for a real treat if this “lioness in winter” roars back into the top ten.
It was also good to see Victoria Azarenka and Dominika Cibulkova back in action as they provided us with the best women’s match of the event. Azarenka, another player known for speaking raw on court, could well be the player to watch this season as she returns after a rough 2014 season marred by injury.
Tim Smyczek and his act of sportsmanship during his second round match versus Rafael Nadal earned raves worldwide. Thought Smyczek would lose, he subsequently earned a whole new group of fans along with an opportunity to tell how life really is on the tour for guys like himself who aren’t quite household names. Smyczek proved winning, at any cost, isn’t everything and for that he deserves all the accolades he can get.
And perhaps it’s Smyczek’s good deed that stands out the most during this at-times foul-mouthed, lung-busting shouting, “don’t worry, he does that all the time”, fist-pump waving at your opponent across the net Australian Open. Despite the big ranking points and big money at stake, Smyczek proved that tennis still can be an sport of honor, decorum and simple courtesy. Actions always speak louder than words after all.