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Australian Open 2018 Week #2 Review:





Week #2 of the 2018 Australian Open ended several hours ago(sorry the delay in publishing this) with the men’s singles title going to Roger Federer.

It marked a record 20th Grand Slam singles championship in Federer’s career, also equaling the Australian Men’s singles career titles of 6 jointly held by Roy Emerson, Novak Djokovic and now Federer. The final score was 6 – 2, 6 – 7, (7 – 5 Cilic in the tiebreaker), 6 – 3, 3 – 6, 6 – 1.

On Saturday in an incredibly tight and long match played under temperatures that exceeded over 90 degrees after the sun had set in Melbourne, (and the roof left open) Caroline Wozniacki won her first career Grand Slam women’s singles title over Simona Halep in 3 sets that lasted just short of 3 hours in length.  The score was 7 – 6, (7 – 2 in the tiebreaker) 3 – 6, 6 – 4.

Injuries and illness very much a part of the Australian Open!  The off-season is much too short!

The sport of tennis has, by far the shortest off-season of any major sport on this planet.  For the women who qualify and compete for the WTA season-ending tournament which takes place in late October, it is about 9 weeks until the new season begins with a warm-up tournament taking place in Brisbane Australia in early January just before the first major of the season which is held of course in Melbourne.

For the men, the ATP season-ending tournament, (taking place in London) is even later in the calendar year, taking place in early November.  The men have about 7 weeks until the new season begins with their warm-up tournament also taking place down under before the Australian Open.

In a previous article that I wrote for this blog last week, I reported that Novak Djokovic was rallying his male peers to possibly forfeit next year’s Australian Open; done as a protest under the belief that they deserve much higher pay at the 4 Grand Slam major tournaments then what they currently receive as participants.

Djokovic in his misguided belief compares the 17% take off of the 4 Grand Slam tournaments revenue that they take in through ticket sales and merchandise as not even being close to what professional basketball, football and baseball players in the U.S. earn which are all slightly under 50%.  Football, basketball, and baseball all involve team sports; not the case with tennis which is an individual sport.

Perhaps Djokovic’s gripe should have addressed the ridiculously long season for both the men and women tennis professionals who compete on the two circuits.  Novak, who coming into the Australian Open had issues with his right elbow, forcing him to stop his 2017 after a loss at the Wimbledon tournament in early July, re-injured it again in his round-of-16 match against an upcoming South Korean player named Hyeon Chung.

Those in the know and in close touch with his inner circle now believe that Djokovic will need to undergo extensive surgery on this elbow as the only way of repairing the ligament damage in that joint.  Such surgery followed by a long period of rehabilitation might knock Djokovic out for most of the calendar 2018 tennis season.

Rafa Nadal late in the tournament playing against Marin Cilic in the quarter-final round ended up injuring one of his hips during a long rally when he was forced to make an awkward move while chasing down a ball.

Nadal, for the first time in his career, did not finish a match, retiring early in the 5th set when it was apparent to all that his movement on the court was severely restricted. Continuing to play in what probably was a lost cause, Rafa might have hurt himself even more.

It was found out after consulting medical staff that thankfully it was not another injury to one of Rafa’s knees.  Instead, it is thought that he will only be out a month or so and will be able to return to the circuit after rest and rehabilitation done on his injured hip sometime in either late February or early March.

In the men’s semi-finals going up against Roger Federer, the young Korean player Chung had to quit near the end of the second set.  Losing rather handily as it was against Federer 6 -1, 5 -2 Chung retired due to massive blisters that were on his feet making it impossible for him to move around the court easily plus the fact he was in a major amount of discomfort.

The accumulation of time spent on the court during the tournament, (and it was Chung who knocked out Novak Djokovic) plus the short off-season ended up doing in Hyeon to the point where he simply could not continue against Federer.

Perhaps Novak should have focused his attention on rallying his fellow players to support him in shortening the 10-and-a-half month long tennis season.  Novak’s belief that instead, players should get much more money is something that will never prove to be successful.  As it is, many players chose to remain mum on the subject, (Rafa and Roger most notably) choosing not to back Novak.

Frankly, the tennis season is obscenely long, especially with the increased physicality of the sport which is attributed to the much larger rackets (and improved string technology) compared to how the sport was played 20 or 30 years ago.

Linked below is a video from the classic 1980 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.  Besides noticing in the video that both players were using wooden rackets, which today would be considered laughable in the hands of top players, it also can be seen how slow the ball seemed to move during rallies.

Today, many 13-year old kids can hit the ball harder than either Borg or McEnroe were capable of doing back then while they played in what is considered to be the most prestigious of the 4 Grand Slam majors, Wimbledon.  The reason why is that players of all ages today play with modern rackets that obviously makes it possible to hit the ball much harder by comparison to 35 + years ago.

And in addition to that, a player because of the much larger “sweet spot” on the racket, combined with the advanced string technology can control the ball with much more precision compared to the legendary great players Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe seen in the video below who were the two best male tennis players in the world back in 1980.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf0yfEfvMHE

Those readers who are old enough to remember this classic men’s final from almost 38 years ago, can recall that while McEnroe won that 4th-set tiebreaker 18 – 16, he would go on to lose the 5th set to his Swedish rival Borg 6 – 1.

Further below in this article, I will link a video to Saturday’s women’s final including the last game won by Wozniacki to clinch her first Grand Slam title.   The ferocity measured in how each woman is now capable of hitting the ball in long rallies at the highest level of the sport is all due to the larger rackets.

Neither player, however, Caroline Wozniacki or Simona Halep will ever be recognized historically as being the great players that Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe are thought of by people who follow and know the sport of tennis very well.

A past great tennis player in Bjorn Borg, who, so sadly retired at a very young age!

Bjorn Borg was 25-years old in 1980 when he won what was then his 5th consecutive, (and last) Wimbledon Men’s singles title.  The next year, McEnroe got back at Borg defeating him in the 1981 Wimbledon Final.

Two months later in September of 1981, McEnroe defeated Borg in an epic U.S. Open final, denying the Swede the chance to win the “Career Slam”.  This achievement over a player’s career would mean that he/she would have won at least one of the 4 Grand Slam titles – Australian, French, U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

Borg won both the French and Wimbledon titles 5 times each, (consecutively) and one Australian Open singles title.  In fact historically looking at the fact that the French Open, (played on red clay) and Wimbledon, (played on grass) are contested within 4 to 5 weeks of each other, this allows a person to put into perspective that Borg’s achievement from the years 1976 through 1980 when he won the 5 French Open and Wimbledon titles back-to-back in such a short time period is incredible.

Rafa Nadal, by comparison, has been able to do this back-to-back achievement only twice in his career, 2008 and 2010 with the French Open/Wimbledon titles secured within a month or so of each other.

Roger Federer achieved this incredible achievement only once, 2009.  That year, Federer captured his only French Open title and then weeks later in eclipsing Pete Sampras’ then career Grand Slam major singles record he beat Andy Roddick in a gripping 5-set match, (the last set by a score of 16 – 14) to secure what then was his 6th career Wimbledon title.

Pete Sampras was never able to pull off such an achievement, in fact never winning the French Open at all during his career.  The only male player to do it in the same year, twice, was the great Rod Laver when in both 1962 and 1969 he won all 4 Grand Slam major titles in the same season.

Back to Bjorn Borg in the year 1981.  Losing that U.S. Open final for a second consecutive year to his greatest rival John McEnroe in early September 1981, Bjorn Borg several hours later boarded a flight out of JFK International airport in NYC, flew back to his home country of Sweden, and at the age of 26 simply decided he had had enough and retired from the sport.  Borg was completely burned out from the sport and the gruelingly long seasons that take place yearly.

Injuries plus mental burnout have caused many players to retire quite young:

Many other great players throughout the history of the sport retired at an age that would be considered quite young.  Steffi Graf due to knee problems quit at the age of 30.  Pete Sampras(my all time favorite player) won the 2002 U.S. Open singles title and never played another professional match in his life, retiring at age 31.

Kim Clijsters after retiring because of injuries went on to have a baby daughter, came back to win several more slam titles and then still only 29-years old in 2012 retired a second time for good because of more injuries that occurred throughout her body.

The same goes for Clijsters’  Belgian countrywoman Justine Henin who one year in route to winning the U.S. Open defeated both Venus and Serena Williams on the way to the taking the title.  She retired at the age of 26 due to a chronic elbow problem.

It is a rare feat that Jimmy Connors was still competing well at the age of 39 when he made it to the U.S. Open semi-final round in 1991.

Martina Navratilova, the one-time great foe of another legendary tennis player Chrissy Evert and who has the most combined career singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles in her stellar career won her last major title in mixed doubles in the 2006 U.S. Open tournament at the age of 50!! She won that title paired up with Bob Bryan, who along with his identical twin brother himself is a legendary doubles player.

The fact that the Williams sisters, with Serena next month scheduled to come back after having her first child back in early September, (2017), are still competing at a high level well into their 30s and earlier today Roger Federer at the age of 36 won his 20th Grand Slam singles career title, in reality, should be considered a statistical anomaly in the sport of tennis.

For the most part, either due to injury or burn-out professional tennis players are out of the sport well before the age of 35.  And it is the tennis fans who lose.

The tennis season in a nutshell for decades has always been too long.   Somehow, someway it needs to be shortened.  It could start with the Australian Open re-scheduled to take place in late February or early March instead of mid-January.

The tennis governing bodies should also consider eliminating most of the fall season, the slew of meaningless tournaments taking place after the final grand slam of the year the U.S. Open ends in early/ mid-September.Check more on grand slams here.

Any “season-ending” tournament should take place in early October at the latest.   After that, all players would have a good 3 months off to both recuperate regarding their bodies physically and their minds from the exertion which is part of the sport.

Yes, this would mean less money as tournament prizes to the players.  But, if I could ask Novak Djokovic, who has earned enough money in his career to last several lifetimes, (and including that of any future grandkids) would he rather be able to play for another 5 or 6 years with a shortened season? Or, for Novak is it all about the money and playing week after week he keeps risking permanent injury to his elbow?

The 2018 Australian Open women’s final recap:

For the first time in the tennis open era, (beginning in 1969) the Australian Open final would feature the world #1, (Halep) versus the world #2, (Wozniacki) ranked players in which the stakes were the first ever Grand Slam singles title for whichever player emerged victoriously.

For some irrational reason, the roof on Laver arena was left open for the night match even though the outside temperatures as play began was in the mid-90s.  Tournament officials deemed it to be not hot enough to close the roof.

It’s funny that with the temperature a scant 4 or 5 degrees higher on Sunday evening, 100 degrees, officials closed the roof for the men’s final.  Really, can one tell the difference between 96 degrees versus 100 degrees?  Shouldn’t the roof have been either closed for both matches or, conversely open for both?

With the roof open, it would physically drain both female contestants, especially Simona Halep who by the end of the match was staggering and in fact, was hospitalized later that night after the match was over.

Simona Halep had been on the court a good 2 – 3 hours longer over the course of her 6 matches leading up to the final compared to Caroline Wozniacki.  In fact, in an earlier match against the U.S. player Lauren Davis, played in the heat of the day the 3rd set ended at 15 – 13.  Simona managed to stave off 3 match points against her down 10 – 11 in that 3rd set.

In her semi-final match against Angelique Kerber, (again played during the day and the roof definitely opened) Simona won the 3rd set by a score of 9 – 7.  Ms. Halep late in the 3rd set and down 6 – 7 was also able to stave off two more match points against her and with Kerber serving!

It all caught up to Simona in the final against Caroline, especially in the 2nd set during a changeover when she appeared quite woozy and a medical trainer had to take her blood pressure and apply ice to her neck and face as Simona sat in a chair on the court.

In the 3rd set, Caroline broke out to a 3 – 1 lead.  It looked like it was the end of the road for Simona.  Not willing to simply give up but instead digging deeper than what appeared to be humanly possible, Simona came back to take the lead 4 – 3.  During a changeover, this time it was Wozniacki who called for a trainer as she hurt her left knee during one rally and appeared out of it.

Somehow, Caroline dug even deeper into her physical and mental reserves.  She is known for being one of, if not, the fittest player on the women’s tour and it certainly came in handy.  Caroline, famously a few years ago, competed and finished the NYC Marathon, not just jogging over the 26.2-mile long course but running it in a very good time; considering the fact that she is not a professional Olympic-level long distance runner.

Caroline won the last 3 games, (breaking Simona’s serve once) which included a sublime point linked below in the video which gave her match point. In the video, this incredible point starts at around the: 45-second mark. Both players during the long rally were actually off of the court, forced to hit spectacular returning shots before Wozniacki pulled it off with an unbelievable cross-court winner.

This time on match point against her, (the 6th in the tournament), luck was not with Simona and on that final point, Halep after another long rally dumped a backhand into the net to give Wozniacki her first Grand Slam singles title of his career.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZws0Jkwx-A

Again as I mentioned above, notice how hard the players due to the larger rackets can hit the ball generating tremendous pace which would have been unthinkable 35+ years ago, and even by players such as Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

Roger Federer captures #20! The Australian Open men’s final recap:

I admit to being an unabashed Roger Federer fan.  When he came on the scene in the early 2000s, Federer quickly became known, and especially as he began accumulating Grand Slam major singles titles as a person who used his tennis racket as if it were a magic wand.

In fact in the 2005 U.S. Open final when he lost to Federer, the great Andre Agassi’s one comment that became legendary was when he stated that Roger “plays a type of tennis with which I am completely unfamiliar with”!   What Agassi was saying that day after losing in 4 sets to Federer at that year’s final was that he had never seen a player who had Roger’s often sublime playing ability ever in his career. And for years, Agassi had had some epic matches himself going up against a guy named Pete Sampras.

Still, though throughout his career, Roger did have his Kryptonite weakness, one player who could take him down who went by the name of Rafael Nadal.  In several French Open finals in the mid-2000s, (before 2010) Rafa routinely cleaned Roger’s clock, twice by embarrassing scores.

Also at 2008 in the Wimbledon final after twice losing to Roger in both 2006, (a routine drubbing accomplished by Federer) and the 2007 finals, (a little closer) Rafa broke through winning a legendary five-set thriller that ended in near darkness, 9 – 7 in the 5th set.

Roger’s one weakness for years was his one-handed backhand which, against Rafa, he often bunted or sliced back while exchanging groundstroke rallies.  Roger was too stubborn in his belief as a player to change tactics against Nadal.

Rafa also beat Roger in the 2009 Australian Open final in the 5th set when becoming unglued, a discombobulated Federer lost the final set 6 – 2.  Later on, during the trophy ceremony, Roger broke down in tears and had to be consoled by Nadal.

It all changed however when, before suffering a knee injury that knocked Roger out for the latter half of the 2016 season, he hired a new coach in Ivan Ljubicic.  In addition to the fact that several years earlier Roger finally updated his equipment switching to a larger racquet, he also began employing more serve and volley tactics.



Roger, now in his mid-30s regarding age, knew that he could no longer stay on the baseline exchanging heavy groundstrokes with players much younger than he was as it would take a physical toll on his body.  Roger decided to end the points during the matches as early as possible.

As his placement on serves had usually been impeccable throughout his career, and in fact improving as he got older, (witness the 50 aces he served up in that long 5-set finale at the 2009 Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick); striking the ball at a specific location in the opponent’s serve return box would allow Roger to rush to the net, hit an unreturnable volley on the next stroke which would  thus end the point very quickly.

The most important strategy was the decision for Roger to become much more aggressive with his one-handed backhand.  Federer, early in 2017 and something that Nadal learned at last year’s Australian Open final, began whipping his backhand stroke with pace, more to win points and not just keep the ball in play.

Federer knocked off Nadal in that epic 5 set thriller in last year’s Australian Open final including coming back from down 3 – 1 in the final set.  He would also beat Nadal 3 more times during the 2017 tennis season including in the finals of Indian Wells and Miami in the month of March back-to-back, both in straight sets.

This new aggressive style of play would also serve Roger well when he won his 8th career Wimbledon singles title in July of 2017.

Going into the finals of this year’s Australian Open, Federer did not drop a set in any of his 6 matches.  With Djokovic, Nadal,  Andy Murray, (who did not even enter the tournament due to, you guessed it, an injury), plus other top contenders in Dominic Thiem and Gregor Dimitrov all being knocked out, only one player who during his career had an 1 – 8 career record against Federer, Maric Cilic, stood in Roger’s way in earning his 20th career Grand Slam singles title.

As I live on the East Coast and did not care to get up at 3:30 EST Sunday morning to watch the men’s final, I chose to watch the match when it re-aired on ESPN at 10 am.  I was careful not to watch any sports scores on television, or turn on my computer and go onto the Internet to find out what happened.

Cilic came out incredibly nervous and Federer blew him out in the 1st set by a score of 6 – 2, done in about 30 or so minutes.  The McEnroe brothers, (John and Patrick) plus Chris Fowler calling the match on ESPN all believed, with the way that Cilic looked in that first set, that it would be a 3 set drubbing taking Federer well under 2 hours to complete the demolition.

The thing about sports, however, is that in big games or matches you have to play it out.  Cilic suddenly played better in the second set winning in a tie-breaker 7 – 6.  Federer then crushed Cilic in the 3rd set winning it 6 – 3 and getting his first serve in nearly 80% of the time.

In the 4th set, up 3 games to 1, Federer with Cilic serving had the Croat on the ropes, facing a break point.  Cilic survived and in fact went on to break Federer twice in that set.  Federer like in the 2009 Australian final against Rafa became slightly rushed and unglued with his serve.  Federer’s first-serve percentage in that 4th set dropped to around 35%!  Cilic also began hitting rocket-like groundstrokes which really punished Federer. Cilic took the 4th set by a score of 6 – 3.

Early in the 5th set with Federer serving first, Cilic had two break points against Roger.  Watching the match I was extremely nervous at that point, coming to the unbelievable realization that Federer who looked so dominant in the 1st set could actually lose the final.

Instead, Federer righted himself by holding his serve.  On Cilic’s first serve in the very next game, suddenly Marin became tight as Federer broke his serve to go up 2 – 0 in the final set.

As it happened, Roger stepped up his game a notch to where it was in the 3rd set especially.  He began serving well again.  In what was to Roger a hilarious moment on match point he hit a shot that was called in, correctly by one of the linespersons, backed up by the chair referee.  Just exactly as was the case on match point last year when Rafa called for a replay challenge that proved to be wrong, Cilic did the same thing – somehow wishing and hoping.

It delayed Roger’s chance to celebrate by about 15 seconds however as when the replay went up on the scoreboard, indeed Federer’s last shot on the sideline clearly was in.  Game, set, match and 20th  career grand slam major singles title to Roger Federer.

As seen on the YouTube video linked below after receiving his trophy and winner’s check of 4 million dollars, (Aussie) and while giving a speech, Roger became overwhelmed by the support of the crowd who were cheering him on.

Instead of crying tears of embarrassment which was the case following his loss to Rafa at the 2009 Australian Open final, these were tears of gratitude as without a doubt in the world, Roger Federer is one of the most beloved sports athletes in the world!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A72M2mZ2wHA

That wraps up my review of the 2018 Australian Open final.  I’ll see you next when the French Open comes around in late May.

Jeff

Conclusion

As you can see above, most of this post would not have been possible without my good friend Jeff. Will get to that at some other time so keep checking these lines.Want to improve your Tennis game?check these top tips from the best coaches.

Thanks so much Jeff

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