Parting Potpourri

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

An awful lot happens over the course of a Grand Slam fortnight, not all of it tabulated in the win and loss columns. So this is as good a time as any to make a few, final observations about the tournament, now that the smoke has cleared from the battlefield.

The New Math

Thanks to his triumph, Stanislas Wawrinka is up to No. 3 in the world, and Juan Martin del Potro has moved up to No. 4. Meanwhile, Big Four members Andy Murray and Roger Federer are down to Nos. 6 and 8, respectively. So at what point do we say good-bye forever to the popular “Big Four” theme?

Li nah-nah-nah-nah Na

Am I the only one who thinks that Li Na, the new women’s champion, has an edge that isn’t always so. . . cute? 

After Li knocked off Eugenie—or, Eu-ingénue—Bouchard, she sounded almost bitter and mocking in a faux apology to the puberty-impaired lads who make up “Genie’s Army.” And those endless putdowns of husband Dennis get tiring and actually are starting to seem a little mean. 

I know the language barrier is significant, and that humiliating her husband is always good for an easy laugh for Li. That’s not to be taken lightly. But as happy as I was to see Li win and as much as I like her game, I’m not a huge fan of her humor. I guess something gets lost in translation.

This is “Bedside Manner?”

Has any tournament official come off as more tone-deaf and cavalier when faced with potentially serious health issues than the Australian Open’s head physician, Dr. Tim Wood? 

I’m as big a fan of toughness as the next guy or girl, but Wood sounded remarkably like a company shill during the, er, heated discussions about the extreme heat during the first week. 

To put it plain and simple, Wood seemed to be more intent on ensuring the uninterrupted success of the tournament—by avoiding postponements or cancellations because of the heat—than the health and safety of the pros. How’s this for a quote on the sport you, poor benighted reader, once thought was somewhat physically demanding. Wood said:

“As you can appreciate, the (tennis) players, the time the ball is in play, in total time for the match is relatively small. The amount of heat they produce from muscles exercising is relatively small in terms of what someone continuously exercising will do. They sit down every five to ten minutes for every 90 seconds at change of ends, so there is chance to lose some heat at that time. Tennis by and large is a low-risk sport.” 

It’s a wonder tennis players actually get paid for what they do, right?

No Pain, No Game

Lest you think I’m a bit milquetoast after reading the previous item, let me add that time-outs for injury and treatment have gotten way out of hand, and so have the bathroom breaks. I mean, you’d think that nobody who played before 1990 ever had to go if you look at how they've spiked these past few years.

Solutions: If hurt or injured, you get a consultation and/or treatment period of up three minutes, after which you either play on—or quit. If you need more extra time, you can take five minutes for treatment, but it costs you a game each time.

As for those bathroom breaks, how about setting up a Port-a-Potty right behind the umpire’s chair, to keep the interruption of play to a minimum?

Serena vs. Maria: The Next Generation

The best thing to happen to Sloane Stephens, aside from hooking up with coach Paul Annacone, is Eugenie Bouchard. That’s right. Forget Serena Williams; Stephens’ real rival off the Twitter grid is Bouchard, who’s now moved within one ranking position of the 18th-ranked American.

At age 19, Bouchard is actually a few months younger than Stephens. She’s also highly marketable and already wildly popular. If all that doesn’t light a fire under Stephens, nothing will. 

This Time, It’s Not Us

The U.S. Open has received a load of grief over the years (most of it justified) for straying from the tried-and-true “alternate day” schedule adhered to so faithfully at Wimbledon. But at least the USTA had the Super Saturday albatross hanging around its neck (we won’t get into that awful new habit, the three-day first round, right now). And the French also have asked for trouble with their Sunday start.

The Aussies are also prime offenders when it comes to unfair scheduling. This year, Agnieszka Radwanska was obliged to play back-to-back matches on the second Wednesday and Thursday, and came up utterly flat for the second of those (she was crushed by Dominika Cibulkova in the semis). Granted, the winner had the same schedule, but she rolled through her quarterfinal with Simona Halep in no time, while Radwanska had a much tougher time dethroning defending champ and No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka. 

Matches can be exhausting mentally and emotionally as well as physically, as Radwanska’s fate vividly demonstrated. A two-week Slam is just too long and enervating an experience for such departures from the formula alternating days of play with days of rest. All Slams should adhere to the schedule, like Wimbledon does.

And this Guy Wears a $500,000 Watch?

Isn’t it about time Rafael Nadal stopped kvetching when he isn’t warned about taking too much time before he’s actually issued a “time violation” warning? Why does Rafa want a warning that he’s going to be getting a . . . warning?

That’s another good reason to put a 20- or 25-second clock right out there on the court, where the players and fans can see it. 

And She Wanted to Attend Yale?

After Garbine Muguruza knocked off Caroline Wozniacki in the third round, Wozniacki was asked if she thought Muguruza had any chance to beat No. 5 seed Aganieszka Radwanska in her next match. Wozniacki answered:

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about it. You know, when I’m not in the tournament anymore, like it sounds rude, but I don’t really look at the games anymore. I just try and focus on myself.”

I guess you can give Wozniacki a little credit for realizing that declining to answer the question was “rude.” But the rest of her non-answer was just plain dumb. Anyway, once Wozniacki was out of the tournament, she had all day and night to focus on herself, a pastime she never seems to tire of. 

Winners in Shadowlands

Let the record show that there were more than two champions at the Australian Open. Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt won the men’s doubles in their first Grand Slam event as a team. Lindstedt was so moved that he broke down and cried. The champs overcame the team that eliminated the Bryan brothers, Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen.  

In the women’s doubles, there was plenty of joy but no dream-come-true tears. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci took the title over Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova in a cliff-hanger. The Italians were impelled to roar back to win five games in a row from a 2-5 final set deficit to complete a successful title defense.

In the juniors division, Alexander Zverev of Germany won the boys' title and Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia won the girls' championship. Zverev is the top male junior in the world, while Kulichkova is the eighth-tanked female.

National Pride, National Disgrace

Maybe I’ve missed it, but I don’t recall any other major posting a “by country” scoreboard the way the Australian Open did this year. It’s a little like the Olympic Games’ medals table, which is an endless source of fascination for press and public alike.

You can find the scoreboard here, but here are a few quick observations: The Swiss, with four players entered (only male and female singles players’ results are in the count), had an awesome won-lost record of 14-3. The Serbs, who had six starters, trailed with the Swiss at 14-6. Spain put 19 players in the draw (second behind the United States, which started 24) and they finished 26-19. The USA was 19-24. Australia was dismal, winning just nine matches despite sending 15 players into the fray. The Netherlands had the worst record of all, 0-4.

A Gentleman from Tandil

One of the more remarked-upon disappointments of the week was Juan Martin del Potro’s loss to up-and-coming Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the second round, 7-5 in the fifth. It was the first earth-moving upset in the men’s singles draw.

The loss was accompanied by much hand-wringing among del Potro fans, but it also triggered some fairly harsh criticism of the big man’s continued failure to break back into the elite, upper echelon of the game. Del Potro had nothing but praise for Agut after the match, and he put the result down to brilliant play by the winner (“But in every moment I had, he played unbelievable shots,” del Potro said).

But it turns out that del Potro, a right-hander who hits a two-handed backhand, was playing with a bad left wrist. The pain was so bad that del Potro had resorted to taking injections for relief. But he kept his mouth shut, bit his lip, and took his loss in a manly manner.

As I write this, del Potro is on a plane to Rochester, Minn., where he will have his wrist (an injured right wrist caused him to miss most of the 2010 schedule) examined by Dr. Richard Berger.

Let’s all wish del Potro a speedy, surgery-free recovery. It was classy of him to keep his injury secret until today.

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