For better or for worse, people often get caught up in the end of year holiday season. One minute you’re carving the Thanksgiving turkey, the next you’re ushering in the New Year. People are so busy, even the start of the tennis season sneaks up them. I know, it’s heinous.
I think it’s safe to say however, after an exciting week of Australian Open tennis, fans are geared up for a wild 2014 season. A year ago one certainly would have been hard pressed to predict David Ferrer’s number 3 world ranking, Stanislas Wawrinka’s ascension to only two spots behin the top ranked Swiss player (you know who), or the naming of Boris Becker as Novak Djokovic’s coach. These new narratives, along with the dozens that have cropped up over this past week, will certainly be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Undoubtedly, the most surprising occurrence so far was Serena Williams defeat at the hands of Ana Ivanovic in the 4th round. This defeat was shocking for a multitude of reasons. Besides the fact that Serena is a five time champion at Melbourne, she was coming into this match riding a 25 match winning streak. Not only that, but Ivanovic had never even taken a set off of Williams in four previous meetings. Ivanovic’s struggles since winning the 2008 French Open have been about as difficult to comprehend as Serena’s ridiculous 96 percent win percentage over the past year. Needless to say, no one saw this coming.
Reports after the match suggest however, that Williams coach was in fact wary of this this matchup, not because of the opponent, but because of Serena’s physical condition. Apparently, Williams had been dealing with a back injury in the days leading up to the match which hampered her play on the court. Somewhat surprisingly, Serena refused to blame the loss on the injury and instead praised Ivanovic for her performance. It was clear however, that Serena was not only unable to get to balls she normally would have but also that the velocity on her serve was down. It doesn’t appear that Serena’s back problems are a long term issue, but I’ll certainly be paying attention next time she’s on the court.
For as unpredictable as the women’s draw has been, the men’s has gone very much as expected. Seven of the eight top seeds find themselves in the quarterfinals, with only the fifth ranked Juan Martin Del Potro failing to do so. Though Del Potro’s 2nd round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut was surprising, he has never really shown up at the Australian Open making it to the quarters only twice. On the other hand, the three remaining men who have done well enough to win this tournament previously, have been stellar thus far.
Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer, have all yet to drop a set during this first week of play. Nadal did however, have to grind out a tough victory over the lively Kei Nishikori in the fourth round in a match that exceeded three hours. Luckily, he’ll be avoiding the other top players left and will instead face off against the 22nd ranked Gregor Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian, who is probably best known for dating Maria Sharapova, is looking to take a major step in his first ever grand slam quarterfinal. Dimitrov has admitted he has yet to really make an impact on tour. He does however, come across as level-headed and self aware which bodes well for this still developing 22 year old. Though Nadal is heavily favored, don’t expect him to cruise against Dmitrov. Not only is Nadal coming off a three hour 4th round match, but Dimitrov has taken a set off of Nadal each of the three times they have played. I expect Nadal to win, but don’t be surprised if Dimitrov makes him work for it.
The featured match of the quarters is the other one on the Nadal side of the draw between Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Federer appears to have temporarily turned back the clock. He cruised against lesser opposition in the first three rounds before putting on a clinic against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who had previously beaten him at last years French Open. Murray has been equally impressive this tournament, dropping only one set so far.
We usually have to wait for the semi-finals for a match of this magnitude, but it’s representative of the changing landscape in the men’s game. The well documented erratic form and injury issues of Federer and Murray respectively, make this matchup one the most unique between the two in recent memory. Though Murray has had Federer’s number lately, winning three of the last four matchups, I believe Federer has played the better tennis this past week. Personally, I have been mentally preparing for Federer’s decline, but it doesn’t appear that Federer is willing to roll over just yet. I expect him to win in a hard-fought five setter.
With such firepower left in the men’s draw all the quarterfinal matchups are sure to be memorable. It’s been tough to stay awake for these first few rounds with matches being played in the middle of the night, but I have a feeling you’re going to want to tune in to each match going forward. You’ll probably lose sleep anyway once you realize you just missed an all time epic match. Either way, it’s feels good to have tennis back.