With the Australian Open having now concluded, the time has come to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the previous two weeks.
First, the good.
She may have been knocked out at the quarter-final stage by number two seed, Vera Zvonareva, but, she left her mark on tennis fans with her comprehensive victory over Australian world number six, Samantha Stosur. Only twenty years of age, she consumed the pressure of the big match situation with all the aplomb of a ten year veteran of the pro circuit. Sure, in the next round she was the one to crack, but learning to deal with pressure consistently will come with experience. And she has plenty of room for improvement. Ranked twenty-eight, there is little doubt that she will make a charge for the top ten in the near future. How could she not, when she has been gifted with powerful ground strokes, as well as the finesse to deal with the more delicate side of the game. Add to that the stature of her Amazonian 6ft frame, and what you have is a superstar in the making.
Like a good wine, Na, is getting better with age. Now twenty-eight, she is hitting her prime with an appearance in Saturday’s final against Kim Cjisters. Unlike others before her, success hasn’t come a knocking early in her career. Instead, she has had to work for it. She is a shining example of a player that has toiled away for many a year and is starting to reap the awards. The next few years promise to bring more success, especially as she is armed with ground strokes that pierce the opposition faster than a tracer bullet.
A delight she was off the court, too. Often, players hide their personalities from the outside world, preferring to open up when out of the view of the public and media. Not so, though, for Na, who was never short of something to say when it came to a sense of humour. Always happy, she was, to regale all and sundry on her dedication to the fine art of shopping sprees on her husband’s credit card, and to tales of his snoring keeping her awake at night. A breath of fresh air, in more ways than one.
For so long now, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have dominated the men’s game. Maybe, just maybe, tennis has found a player that can challenge the big two. Are three a crowd? Could be, but, after Djokovic’s crushing defeats of Federer and Andy Murray in the final two matches of the tournament, the two superstars may have no say in the matter. Djokovic arrived in Australia looking leaner and fitter than in the past, and it showed as he overpowered high class opponents. Simply, Djokovic, hit harder for longer and no one could stay with him. After winning the Australian Open in 2008, he was expected to go on to greater things, but for whatever reason, his game stagnated. Perhaps it all came a little too easy to him at the time, and he became complacent. It now appears that, at the age of twenty-three, he has matured. Gone are the days of childishly mimicking other players. Nowhere to be seen are injuries that conveniently appear when a match is not going his way. Nature breaks, taken to disrupt the momentum of an opponent are no longer utilised. Instead of using dubious tactics, his new found maturity has led Djokovic to rely on good old fashioned hard work, not to mention a healthy dollop of talent, to become one of the big three.
Hawkeye has been around for some time now, and it has helped improve the game no end. No longer do we see players remonstrating with umpires for any length of time over disputed line calls. A short break to assess what the correct call should be, then play on. Everyone is happy. Especially the umpires, as their jobs have been made considerably easier and less complicated.
Of course, with an event of this magnitude, there will always be the not so good. And leading the field in this department is;
Yes, he got to a grand slam final. Not the worst result that one could ask for. Just not the best, either. Problem is, you see, he has now made the final of three majors. And he hasn’t won one set let alone a match. True, someone has to lose. And, yes, he was clearly hampered by a leg injury against Djokovic in Sunday’s final. But not nearly as much as he was halted in his quest for grand slam glory by the demons in his head. This, by itself, wouldn’t be the end of the world. After all, we all make mistakes and at times struggle with pressure. Only, with Murray though, he hasn’t handled the big match on each occasion he has appeared in a major final. The weight of expectation seems too much for his twenty-three year old shoulders to carry. So, what to do? Well, how about this; as of now, when playing a match, ban your coach from your support box; next, ban your trainers; then try banning your physio. Now, here’s the big one: ban your mother from sitting in your support box for the next five years. Yes, it’s true, mother, Judy, is a fine tennis brain in her own right, having been the Scottish national coach in the past. And, yes, she surely wants the best for her son. I’m sure she is an absolutely lovely lady, but, there is something wrong when a grown man of twenty-three has to constantly look up to his support crew for positive reinforcement. What all of this means is, disencumber yourself of them and learn to think for yourself. Then, maybe, as you learn to negotiate your way through matches without the help of others, you will become more confident in your ability. Which with any luck will lead you to handle the pressure of the grand slams better. But, hey, it’s only a suggestion. I’m sure you can work out what will work for you.
Talk about being weighed down by expectations. If you think Murray had it bad, just imagine what it was like for home town girl Stosur. And it showed in her fourth round loss to Petra Kvitova. Despite her protestations that she played well, clearly, Stosur was well off her game. What was also there for all to see was a woman that come the big match did not believe she could win. Nerves, due to a lack of self-belief, crossed her path early on and never dissipated. This has been an ongoing problem for the lady with the biggest serve in the women’s game and the forehand to die for. Weapons of mass destruction at her disposal, yet, unable to use them at crucial times on the biggest of stages. The world number six has the physical game to one day win a major, but, doubts linger as to whether she has mental toughness to go all the way. Like Murray, she still has time on her side to turn her fortunes around.
Now, of course, we have the ugly. Or more to the point, those little things that get on people’s wick. Like;
Wearing your hat backwards
Yes, yes, I know, I’m a grumpy old man. But, why is it that certain male players have to wear a piece of apparel that has clearly been designed a certain way, backwards. First, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a cap, in part, is made in such a way so as to keep the sun out of your eyes. And, second, it looks rediculous when worn incorrectly. Its right up there in the idiocy stakes with wearing sunglasses when the sun isn’t out; absolutely moronic. Surely, wearing your hat backwards is, at best, proof positive that the theory of intelligent design is somewhat misguided.
The challenge system for Hawkeye
As stated earlier, Hawkeye is a good thing. What is not so good, though, is the process in which the players go through to initiate the challenge. What should happen is that a player makes up his or her own mind immediately a call from the linesman/woman has been made on whether they wish to challenge the call. What we shouldn’t see happen is a player ask the umpire for advice on how close a call was. Most annoying, it 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, 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.