Report Card: Grading the Pros Down Under

Monday, January 31, 2011 /by

Head of the Class
And the winner is…women’s tennis. The record-setting 4 hour, 44 minute drama between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone and a first-rate final between eventual champ Kim Clijsters and Li Na gave the women a landslide victory on court. Off court, their antics carried the tournament, from Clijsters’ humiliation of Todd Woodbridge to Li’s hilarious on-court interviews (“I’ll love you even if you get fat, honey. Now please stop snoring!”). All in all, a great showing for the women—and this without Serena Williams and an early exit from Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams. There’s hope yet, women’s tennis fans.

Graduated with Honors
Novak Djokovic, welcome to the elite club that until this tournament had just two members, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic played that well. Can he keep it up? If he does, it’s going to be an incredible season. Need we mention that the man can play on clay?

Ms. Popularity
You might not think Caroline Wozniacki is worthy of the No. 1 ranking, but don’t call her boring. The 20-year-old Dane did wonders for her image—and the image of the WTA in general—by holding a mock press conference and then playing a practical joke on reporters (she told them she had been cut on the leg by a kangaroo). If she ever does start winning Slams—and I’m more optimistic about that than most—she could become a No. 1 that a lot of people will love.

Repeat a Grade
Andy Murray needs to do…something. His strategy against Djokovic was incoherent and his energy was too low. Does he need a coach? New mechanics on his serve? Red Bull? The Scot has tons of talent, and I still say he’ll win not just one major down the road, but a few. This, of course, is provided that he doesn’t suffer too many more soul-bruising finals. There’s only so much one man can take.

Skip a Grade
Tennis fans, give a hearty welcome to Milos Raonic, Alexandr Dogopolov and Bernard Tomic. Are they guaranteed to succeed? No. But it’s nice to see young players who win with power and great touch at net (Raonic); speed and marvelous passing shots (Dogopolov); and funky slices and guile (Tomic). Endless possibilities, this tennis.

Talent Show Winners
It’s not every player who can break a racquet in half on a return of serve. Behold the tennis world’s new magician, Agnieszka Radwanska.

Andrea PetkovicRunner-Up: Andrea Petkovic (at right) for her expert camera work. Sophia Coppola, you’ve been warned.

Hall of Fame
Congrats to Fern Lee “Peachy” Kellmeyer, who will be inducted to the Tennis Hall of Fame this summer (along with an American dude who used to wear a hairpiece and won a fair number of titles; can’t recall his name at the moment). Kellmeyer, a former player and the first employee of the WTA, helped to build the women’s tour as we now know it and deserves the highest praise. One question for the Hall of Fame, though: When are you going to give Nick Bollettieri his due?

Leaving So Soon?
Justine Henin, we’ll forgive your poorly timed retirement announcement (less than 24 hours before the women’s semifinals). Your all-time great skills and unsurpassed style will be badly missed.

Caught Cutting Class
Don’t look now, but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal haven’t met in a Grand Slam match since the 2009 Australian Open final. When will we see it again? Here’s hoping for a Wimbledon reprise.

Dog Ate My Homework
Will Maria Sharapova’s serve ever return? I used to think it would, but I’m starting to get worried. She hit 28 double faults in four matches. Kim Clijsters hit 20 for the entire tournament.

Robin Soderling: The Big Sod’s power wasn’t enough against the scrappy Dogopolov. Can he win a big one?

Department of Riches
Kim Clijsters will cash a check for $2.2 million for winning the Australian Open. Before this tournament began, 96 players in the history of the WTA had earned $2.2 million—in their careers. (Thanks to Kevin Fischer, the WTA’s numbers guru, for doing the math.)

Department of Anagrams
Tennisgrams have returned! For now…these ain’t easy to come up with, you know (at least, not for me).

Here’s your clue: If Andrea Petkovic wanted to play a joke on you, she wouldn’t call you on the phone. She’d send you a ________. Send your answers to me via email; the first person to solve the puzzle will receive a tennis trinket from my office.

Tom Perrotta is an editor-at-large at TENNIS. Follow him on Twitter.

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