With the first week of the Australian Open done and dusted, the players remaining in the draw head towards the business end of the tournament. The first week, as always, has lived up to its expectations; delivering its share of drama and surprises. Here is a look at 10 things we learnt so far at this year’s Australian Open:
1) ATP Seeds are Consistent
With the exception of Kuznetsov, who filled in for Nadal, the remaining 15 spots in the fourth round of the Men’s singles were all filled by seeded players. This is a clear indication of the draw being devoid of too many upsets. With 14 out of the 16 slated matches in the fourth round going according to the draw, this is some consistency displayed by the ATP elite.
2) WTA Seeds are Not
On the other hand, the Women’s singles draw as always, has been quite unpredictable. 20 of the 32 seeds were dumped out in the first 3 rounds alone. 7 of the 16 fourth round spots were filled in by unseeded women. Sharapova, Williams, Radwanska and Kerber were the only top 10 seeds to make it safely to the Round of 16. Consistency issues for the WTA continue.
3) Djokovic is Human
Last year Novak Djokovic was simply unstoppable, going a combined 27-1 in Grand Slam matches. And it seemed, after his 6-1, 6-2 destruction of Rafael Nadal, that it was going to be near impossible to even think about taking a set of Djokovic, let alone a match. Coming into the Australian Open this year, he was everyone’s pick to be the last man standing. And he was fairly untroubled in his opening three matches. Then in the 4th round, against talented Frenchman Gilles Simon, Djokovic found himself in trouble. From the second set of the match on wards, Djokovic seemed to be a different person- going 0-from-11 on break points, which culminated in his first lost set in quite some time. The Serb refocused to take the third set and then lost the fourth. However, he brought the Old Nole back for the fifth, winning the match in emphatic fashion. The overall match stats for Djokovic – especially the 100 unforced errors he coughed up- surely prove that even he is human. But what makes him different is his mental resolve. TO play 100 unforced errors and still win a match is a feat few players can boast.
4) Serena Still has it in Her
Serena had not taken to court since the US Open Semis, having pulled out of all the events since then, including the WTA Finals. Moreover, she was forced to pull out of her only scheduled event before the Australian Open- The Hopman Cup. Could the World Number 1 and 21 time Slam Champion, win it here again? With questions surrounding her pre tournament form, Williams has done great;enough to silence all the doubters- especially with her 6-4,6-1 win over Sharapova. She is still two matches away from the title; and bigger challenges are still waiting. But if her form leading to the semis is anything to go by, then she definitely can do it.
5) Raonic is an Emerging Contender
Milos Raonic along with Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov have been labeled as the future of men’s tennis. However, of the trio, only Nishikori had shown signs of Grand Slam prowess, having beaten Djokovic to reach the U.S. Open final in 2014, where he came up short against Marin Cilic. Raonic, on the other hand, inspite of making it to the semis of Wimbledon in 2014, was never considered as a threat to the big four. A coaching change- former world no. 1 Carlos Moya now coaches Raonic- seems to have bolstered his confidence. The Canadian won in Briabane, beating Federer in the final. And the way he has progressed to the Quarterfinals of the Open is definitely noteworthy. Against 2014 champion Wawrinka, he played a fearless brand of tennis, making full use of his booming serve and blistering groundstrokes to send the Stanimal packing in 5 hotly contested sets. Can he go all the way and win his maiden Grand Slam crown? Only time will tell.
6) The WTA Youth is Closing the Gap
With the last few WTA Grand Slam champions being aged above 26, the gap between the Oldies and the Young guns seems to have widened. 30’s on the WTA Tour seems to be the new 20s. However, at this year’s Open, the Young guns have had a great showing. Out of the 32 women in the third round, 16 of them are aged 24 or lesser. That’s almost 50%. However on the other side, only 6 of these women progressed to the fourth round, with Konta being the only one making it to the Quarters. So the change of guards is bound to happen soon, but not at this year’s Open though.
7) Federer is Continually Improving
Roger Federer is 35 and showing no signs of stopping. The Swiss maestro has put up a dominant performance at this year’s Open, having dropped just one set en route to the semifinals. Given that Federer’s last two grand slam meetings with his quarter final opponent Tomas Berdych, had gone the wrong way, his performance against the Czech was a masterclass and a much needed confidence booster before his blockbuster semifinal against Djokovic. Should Federer win thatmatch, he will for sure, cement his spot as the title favorite.
8) Tennis can be Brutal
If you are of the opinion that tennis is a gentle sport, then you are mistaken for sure. Injuries are a part of every sport, but sometimes, things can just get worse. Anna-Lena Friedsam (aged 21) was in unfamiliar territory, having reached the second week of a Slam for the first time in her career. What’s more, in her fourth round match against Radwanska she lead 5-2 in the final set, even being 2 points away from winning. But alas! She just couldn’t do it. Friedsman suffered late in the match from cramps in both the legs. In spite of taking a medical timeout, she couldn’t stand properly. However, she didn’t give in. Even with tears flowing and the pain almost unbearable, she continued to play the match. Madison Keys, a semifinalist here in 2015, also suffered a teary exit and lost having continued to play in spite of sustaining a left leg injury midway through the second set, that hampered her mobility.
9) Nadal is Still Searching for Answers
When the draw came out, Rafa Nadal realized that he had a long, battle waiting for him, as he drew fellow countryman Fernando Verdasco in the first round. The two were engaged in a energy sapping yet entertaining clash at Melbourne Park back in 2009 in the semis won by Nadal; a match that lasted over 4 hours and 5 gruelling sets. Another long battle between the two ensued, but this time the outcome was different; Verdasco victorious in 5 sets, handing Rafa his first round 1 loss at the Open. Was it the nerves that contributed to the loss? In a way, yes, given that Nadal led by a break in the final set only for Verdasco to reel off 6 straight games. Another key factor was Verdasco’s free hitting and “Going for everything” approach; he amassed 90 winners and 20 aces. Drawing a dangerous player like Verdasco in the first round, was bad luck, but still Nadal entered the match the heavy favorite to win.
10) The Old Azarenka is Back (sort of)
Victoria Azarenka was ranked as high as No.2 in 2014. However her injuries got the better of her, resulting in a drop in her form, and a tumble down the rankings. This low ranking coupled with a little bad luck resulted in her having to face top 10 players in the early rounds of tournaments; which did no good to her cause. However, in 2016, Azarenka seems to have put her past behind her and has displayed the form that won her two Slams and got her to the Number 1 ranking. She won the lead up event in Brisbane and has been emphatic in her four matches in Melbourne losing a meager 11 games. Her loss in the quarters notwithstanding, Azarenka can look back with happiness on her run in Melbourne.
11) Try,Try Until you Succeed
Everyone is familiar with this saying, but very few may believe in it. One of them though, is our Zhang Shuai. Coming into the tournament, she was a 0-for-14 in her Grand Slam matches, having lost 14 times in a row. But she finally ended her drought, and what a way to do it- dispatching world No-2 Simona Halep, in a straight sets demolition. Zhang, after converting match point couldn’t believe that she had finally done it; tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. And what’s more, she hasn’t stopped there. After winning three more matches, she found herself into a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time. Her eventual loss does not dampen the quality of the run she had.