Joy to the tennis world. The Australian Open final's weekend has come and gone for another year and what a sizzling array of talent on display. Two singles finals and gripping tennis was seen in both. We saw Roger Federer, the greatest of all time, reinforce his standing as number one in the world. And in Andy Murray, the heir apparent to Federer, display admirable mental fortitude despite losing, and show that he is the best of the rest.
Then in the Women’s final, Serena Williams showed us all that she is clearly the best in the world. Although that did not stop Justine Henin from giving Williams a good run for her money. Henin, the little Belgium pocket battleship with the heavily armed backhand never gave in, despite running into a fully loaded enemy destroyer going by the name of Serena Williams. And in the end Williams had too much firepower for her. Not to mention match fitness under pressure. Henin, in only her second tournament after coming out of retirement found that her technique could not hold up under the intense scrutiny of William’s onslaught.
Henin, however, did show enough to suggest that once some of that rustiness dissipates, she could close the gap on William’s and start up an enduring rivalry between the two. With these two in full flight, future match ups will be a sight to behold. Henin showed her potential to improve with some scintillating shot making at the end of the second set and beginning of the third. Unfortunately, having won fourteen consecutive points, she went off the boil.
That William’s was able to withstand this onslaught and then invert the pressure back onto Henin, speaks volumes for her greatness as a tennis player. Lesser players would have withered up and crumpled under the pressure. Not William’s though. True champions withstand it. They take the heat and then torch the opposition. Which William’s duly did. In the end Henin had no answer to the power of Serena.
It has been well documented that Henin is aiming for glory at Wimbledon, and has been changing parts of her game, her serve and forehand mostly, to give her every chance of success there. No surprise then that her technique did not hold up terribly well at times in the final. However, with another five months to hone that technique, it will no doubt click into place. Then beware anyone that gets in her way.
Overall the depth of Women’s tennis may have improved from ten through to number fifty in the rankings, but realistically there are only four, maybe five players capable of winning the slams right now. And with the exception of Venus Williams who nearly always manages to shine on grass, it is hard to see anyone other than the two sisters and Henin competing in the majority of grand slam finals this year.
While you could not put either of Williams or Henin in the category of genius, you certainly couldn’t find any better adjective to describe the truly great Rodger Federer. For genius seems to come naturally to the man. Two years ago, everyone was writing him off, wittering on that he was past his best, and that young guns such as Murray, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martine Del Potro and Andy Roddick were catching up and about to overtake him. Now they must all be wondering just how to beat Federer. There is daylight between him and the world number two. This just happens to be Andy Murray, his finals opponent in Melbourne. That he disposed of Murray in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 was remarkable. In as much as Murray did not play badly. Federer simply gave him very little to work with.
Murray pushed hard in the back end of the third set, and fought a good fight, but, he simply did not have the class to really extend Federer. And to be fair to him, no one at the moment could hope to get near the great man. Federer is very close to the apex of the mountain. The best of the rest are still only two-thirds of the way up. Only Nadal has been able to match Federer, although he is now beginning to succumb to injury. It may be that for Murray and the rest of the chasing pack, to catch the fed express, the fed will have to come back to the pack, not them climbing to his level.
Federer has done just about everything in the game in his illustrious career. He now has sixteen grand slam titles to his name, which is two more than the previous mark set by Pete Sampras, made more money than he could possibly know what to do with and is closing in on the most number of weeks at number one in the rankings. The only thing left is to complete the grand slam in a calendar year.
If he can negotiate the clay courts of the Roland Garros, which he is not naturally suited too, then it appears that the grand slam is well within his grasp. And then surely there will be no doubt as to who is the greatest of all time.
The innovation of Hawkeye and the challenge system in tennis has for the most part been a success. It has removed the heated exchanges that have sometimes occurred between players and officials which can only be a good thing. While there are some players, such as Federer and the Williams sisters who are not fans, for the most part the players seem to accept it and trust the technology to get the right result. There are also livelihoods at stake, in particular the lower ranked players who do not win the millions that the very top players get. For them a bad line call can mean a great deal of money and ranking points that are crucial to getting in the main draw of tournaments. So a lot of good has come about from its use.
However there are two concerns involving hawkeye. One is that a player can use the challenge to deliberately affect his or her opposition’s momentum. The other is the more annoying of the two. And that is this constant habit of players looking to their coaches and support staff for advice on whether to challenge or not. If a coach is caught coaching a player during a match, they are warned and possibly even banned from being courtside. How is giving advice on whether to challenge not coaching a player? As far as I can tell there is very little difference. Hence, it equates to cheating. Even worse, as one commentator pointed out during the coverage, is asking the umpire how close the ball was to the line. This is no different to being coached during a match.
What next? Maybe get the umpire to play the game for them as well.
At the beginning of the Tournament, I didn’t think I would survive two weeks listening to the excessive grunting that some players regularly indulge in. I am happy to say that as the tournament progressed, the grunting appeared to regress. Even Serena William’s in the final, was for the most part quiet. And that’s just the way, I suspect, we all like it. Let their rackets make all the noise.