Friday, February 6, 2015

Your Aussie Open Recap

Serena Williams' win in Australia moved her into third place on the women's Grand Slam list, and second place in the Open Era.
By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Since you were probably more focused on a pretty big football game, and most of these matches aired at 3 in the morning, you might have missed one of 2015’s biggest tennis tournaments. Here’s what happened over the last two weeks in Australia.

The men’s and women’s tournaments started on very different paths. The Top-10 men’s seeds all reached the third round while, eight of the 32 women’s seeds lost on the first day of the tournament, including No. 5 Ana Ivanovic and No. 9 Angelique Kerber. Ivanovic had beaten Serena Williams in the fourth round of last year’s tournament, so her loss to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradeck√° was especially surprising.

The only top men’s seed who struggled early on was No. 3 Rafael Nadal. An illness kept Nadal from playing his best tennis against American qualifier Tim Smyczek, who played the best match of his career. Smyczek took a 2-sets-to-1 lead, and it wasn’t until 5-5 in the 5th set that Nadal found his top form and closed out the match 7-5.

He also got a little help from some exceptional sportsmanship by Smyczek. A fan called out during Nadal’s motion while he was serving for the match, causing Nadal’s serve to miss. When the umpire did nothing, Smyczek called for the point to be replayed. Nadal ultimately won the point, and after the match, he congratulated Smyczek for the way he acted at such a critical moment.

Women’s No. 2 Maria Sharapova also struggled, and she faced two match points against 25-year-old qualifier Alexandra Panova, whose career high ranking was No. 71. Panova had never even won a Grand Slam match before this tournament, but Sharapova needed to blast a couple of huge return winners with her back against the wall to stay in the tournament.

Two days later, a top men’s seed finally fell. No. 2 Roger Federer suffered a shocking third round upset loss against 46th ranked Italian Andreas Seppi, a 30-year-old who had lost to Federer in each of their previous ten meetings. Federer did not play particularly well, but Seppi played out of his mind to steal two tiebreakers. He produced the shot of his life to close out the match and end Federer’s 11-year streak of reaching at least the semifinals of this tournament.

In the same round, No. 19 John Isner lost, extending the American men’s pitiful streak to four consecutive Australian Opens without a player reaching the fourth round. But unseeded teenager Madison Keys showed that the future is bright for American women’s tennis. She used her huge serve and forehand to knock off 4th seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-5. Later, in the quarterfinals, she beat No. 18 Venus Williams to set up a match with the other Williams sister.

Serena finally ended Keys’ remarkable run in the semifinals with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win.

An Australian male teenager also made some noise in this tournament. Nick Kyrgios, ranked 53rd, defeated Seppi 8-6 in the 5th set to become the only player ranked outside the top 8 to reach the quarterfinals. The next big men’s upset happened in that round when No. 7 Tomas Berdych ended his record-tying 17-match losing streak against Rafael Nadal. Berdych played phenomenal tennis all week, and Nadal did not seem to be fully match-ready after a long injury layoff.

No. 6 Andy Murray capitalized on the losses by Federer and Nadal. He beat Kyrgios and Berdych to reach the Australian Open finals for the fourth time. On the other side of the draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Stan Wawrinka faced off in the semifinals. The two players had produced classic matches in each of the last two Australian Opens, with Djokovic prevailing 12-10 in the 5th in 2013 and Wawrinka winning 9-7 in the 5th last year. Both times, the winner of their head-to-head battle went on to capture the title. This year’s contest went 5 sets again, but it was not played at the same scintillating level as the previous two. Wawrinka’s unforced errors got the best of him in the 5th set, which Djokovic won 6-0.

Meanwhile, No. 2 Maria Sharapova righted the ship and cruised into the women’s final to face Serena. She played well, but Serena extended her winning streak against Sharapova to 16 and captured her sixth Australian Open title 6-3, 7-6(5). Serena’s win moved her past Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time Grand Slams leaderboard. Only Steffi Graf has won more majors (22) than Serena (19) in the Open Era.

The men’s final had plenty of historical implications as well. Djokovic defeated Murray in the Australian Open final for the third time, giving him eight career major titles, which places him fifth in the Open Era. The match looked like a classic early on, with the players splitting the first two sets in tiebreakers after two and a half hours of play. Murray took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd set, but then he inexplicably crumbled and lost 12 of the last 13 games. The win gave Djokovic five Australian Open titles, setting an Open Era record.

After Wawrinka and Marin Cilic made surprising runs to win Grand Slams last year, many thought that the Big Four were done dominating men’s tennis. But since Murray reached this year’s final, the rankings once again start with No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer, No. 3 Nadal, and No. 4 Murray. Those four should continue to contend for the biggest titles throughout the year.

As a bonus, here are the best points of the tournament:

Men’s: No. 17 Gael Monfils against Lucas Pouille
Women’s: No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova against Victoria Azarenka

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