MELBOURNE—Old media isn’t quite as dead as the dead wood it’s printed on, at least not yet. But there was a distinctly 20th century sensation to waking up this morning, looking at the front page of The Age, the city’s biggest daily, and seeing this as the main tennis headline:
THAT’S WEIRD: THE BIZARRE SUPERSTITIONS OF SHARAPOVA
Yes, last night’s classic between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka finished too late to make the morning papers. Copies were probably landing on front porches around Melbourne around the same time that Novak and Stan were staggering into their press conferences at 2:00 A.M. The best we get today is a short online article in the Sydney Morning Herald, with this underwhelming headline:
DJOKOVIC INTO QUARTERS AFTER A SCARE
We’ll have to go elsewhere for more Djoko-Stan reaction. The British tabs, as you might expect, don’t disappoint.
A Shirt Ripper
That’s what we might want to start calling Djokovic’s epic victories: “That was a real shirt ripper.” Some even wondered on Twitter last night whether he instructed his clothing sponsor, Uni-Qlo, to make his shirts especially easy to shred this year. Whatever the case is, London’s Daily Mail goes with the shirtless angle, and follows it with some hot and heavy descriptions of the match:
SIMPLY THE CHEST! DJOKOVIC BEATS WAWRINKA IN FIFTH SET AFTER FIVE HOUR EPIC
“It was 1:42 A.M. when we saw the shirt ripped off and Novak Djokovic reveal that increasingly familiar torso—the sight which says: ‘You just can’t beat me.’
Stanislas Wawrinka had played like a raging bull for five hours and two minutes, cutting and thrusting with a brutal forehand and elegant backhand.”
Shirt ripper, or bodice ripper?
The Hulk, Part II
That’s how the Sun saw it, with Nole in the lead role:
DJOK ‘N’ AWE AS NOVAK SNEAKS THROUGH
“The world No. 1 pulled off his crazed Incredible Hulk routine to celebrate last year’s record-breaking 5 hour, 53 minutes final win over Rafael Nadal. And he was at it again at the end of another five set Aussie Open thriller to see off Stan Wawrinka in one of the most epic matches of all time.”
Djoko-Stan, the Day After
For me, four things came to mind when I thought back on the match this morning.
First, Djokovic didn’t face a match point, so we didn’t get a chance to see him fire off one of his customarily audacious winners to save it. But we were close. Djokovic was down two break points at 4-4 in the fifth set. On one of them, Wawrinka, with no help from the chair umpire, made his now-infamous non-challenge. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that on the other break point, Djokovic came up with the goods, a perfect drop volley off of a low, difficult pass.
Second, as far as Wawrinka goes, it would be a boon to the sport to have his steely backhand, if nothing else, in the mix at the top of the game. And as Novak said last night, Stan deserved to win this one. Now let’s see something along those lines in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne.
Third, with all Australian players now out of the draw, the face-painted Aussie Fanatics were also absent from Rod Laver Arena last night. I didn’t notice it at first, but when I did, I thought it was a good thing. The audience was a tennis audience pure and simple, and they really responded to the action, right from Wawrinka’s first bomb backhand down the line early in the first set.
Fourth, as dramatic as the last set, and in particular the last game, was, I still believe a tiebreaker at 6-6 in the fifth set is the way to go at all events. Yes, Stan's and Novak’s final game was a beauty, but so was the end of their fourth-set breaker, and it didn’t take an extra half an hour to get there. Extra-inning epics turn into wars of attrition, as last night's did late in the fifth. After peaking at 5-4, 5-5, 6-5, and 6-6, when we know that everything could come to an end, a match typically won't get more dramatic as it continues. Six-all is the perfect, high-tension moment to end it, with an every-point-is-huge tiebreaker.
In other news:
So what are Sharapova’s superstitions, anyway? According to the The Age, she “avoids stepping on lines and other court markings.” Hey, I used to do that, too. Why didn’t I get to No. 1 in the world?
Elsewhere in Maria’s world, The Australian calculates that she earned $1,000 per minute for her 6-1, 6-0 blowout of Belgium’s Kristen Flipkens yesterday. But that didn’t impress The Age’s Richard Hinds. Here’s how he describes her shriek: “As impossible to ignore as a kick in the crotch.”
An Audience with the Maestro
Roger Federer’s junior hitting partner for this fortnight is Aussie Luke Saville, who won the boys' event here last year. (He also dropped an s-bomb in the his trophy speech; does Sire Jacket know about this?)
“Just to see his ball control, he can do anything with the ball,” Saville tells The Age. “He works on these things in practice and they work for him in a match. I can definitely tell he’s much more focused on his game day; he goes straight to the other side of the net from me and speaks with his coach, just shakes my hand and we pretty much just go back and start hitting. On his days off he’ll sit with me and make a lot more conversation....Sometimes I have to pinch myself and say, ‘This is Roger Federer.’”
Running with Journos
Andy Murray returns with his column in The Australian today. Traditional Muzz obsessions such as sushi, video games, and awkward meetings with other famous people are avoided this time, but one staple is well represented: the hard yards. Murray recounts a weekend this winter when he invited the British tennis-writing contingent to do some training with him in Miami.
“Hence,” Murray writes, “you may have seen a few photos of five middle aged journalists jogging down a beach beside me. It was hardly David Hasselhoff-style from Baywatch, but I hear it did create quite a stir on Twitter.”
“Middle aged” may not be how anyone would like to be described, but Murray is kind enough not to identify the poor scribbler who “couldn’t manage a single chin up.” Also, thankfully, he “wont even get into what happened on the Versa-Climber.”
Doug Robson of USA Today reports that ITF anti-doping authorities are discussing a cycling-style "biological passport" for tennis. Rather than conducting tests for individual substances, officials would monitor players' blood for suspicious changes. That sounds like step forward, if and when it happens. The ITF's Stuart Miller tells Robson that talks on the subject are "ongoing," rather than "advanced." In other words, it will be a while.
The Herald Sun has instituted this item, to keep track of the comings and goings of the 37-year-old singer and rumored boyfriend of Victoria Azarenka. It seems that RedFoo has temporarily left the building, and Oz, for a concert in Malaysia. According to Vika, though, the Foo shall return.
Why did Bernard Tomic’s hair look like that the night he played Roger Federer? According to him, a friend shaved it while he was asleep.
“Don’t know why he did that,” Tomic admitted. Bernie, a mystery to the end.