Australian Open – The Old Guard Stands Firm
Familiar names and top seeds withstood challenges from would-be pretenders to the throne to claim just about every Grand Slam title in Melbourne. It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was downright ugly but if you ever doubted that the cream rises to the top, you are forgiven.
Men’s Singles – a few of us doubted the Great One. Always a mistake. Once again, a seemingly ageless Roger Federer proved he is the best player to tie on his tennis pumps and walk onto a court. And, this year the top ranked player had a more difficult time reaching his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semi finals.
In his quarterfinal pairing with Nikolay Davydenko, the Swiss seemed down and on the way out when down a set and down a break in the second and serving at 0-30, all seemed lost. Davydenko looked headed to his third straight win over the ageless one. But, as Federer did to Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the semis and Andy Murray in the finals, he mounted a surge that unnerved even the unflappable Davydenko, carried forward through Tsonga and ended with the Murray dismantling. A truly great Grand Slam Championship performance by a truly wonderful tennis player.
As Roger earned his well deserved 16th Grand Slam trophy, the second seeded Rafa Nadal was nursing a wounded knee, 3rd seeded Novak Djokovic was battling a stomach disorder, 4th seeded Juan Martin Del Potro had wrist and rib cage injuries and 5th seeded Andy Murray was struggling with his ego. At least the champ left them standing!
Women’s Singles – The tournament looked to be ending for the top seeded Serena Williams when upstart Victoria Azarenka refused to buckle in the first set and then jumped out to a 4-0 lead in set two. Once again, Williams rose to the top with a hobbling come-from-behind three set victory over the crest-fallen Azarenka.
On paper, the semis looked like a mismatch with the consummate slugger pitted against the lightweight retriever Na Li, a surprising quarterfinal victor over Venus Williams. But, Li hung tough and refused to crumble eventually losing in a second set tiebreaker in a match that that only featured two service breaks.
Meanwhile runner-up retiree, unseeded and unranked Justine Henin was doggedly chasing down balls and even coming to the net in order to overcome her wayward service game. Breezing through the semis in one hour and losing just one game in the match, Henin looked rested and ready for the fierce but ailing Williams.
But, like Federer, Williams does not retreat or buckle under on the big stage. After losing the momentum and the second set, Williams powered her way back and got to the finish line ahead of the Belgian challenger. These two will meet again.
For Williams, it was her 12th Grand Slam and perhaps her most physically challenging. Only time will tell the toll this trophy took on the 28-year old.
Men’s Doubles – Top seeded American doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan kept their string going. With four Australian Open titles in the last five years, you could say the brothers are on a roll down under. The finals was a three set thriller against second seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, who have had a measure of success against the winners. The runner-ups sport a career 8-3 won-lost record again the champs.
In the first set, the Bryans pressured every Nestor-Zimonjic service game, getting the crucial break in the sixth game and then serving out in 31 minutes. The Nestor team captured a break in game four of the second. The Bryans broke back immediately and at 5-2 in the tiebreaker looked to be on cruise control to the finish line. Team Nestor then ran off five straight points to send the match to the critical set.
The defending champions pounced on Zimonjic’s serve in the fourth game and parlayed a Nestor errant volley into a break. Once again they held set throughout to complete the fast paced 6-3, 6-7 (5) 6-3 triumph at Rod Laver Arena.
Women Doubles – Once again America’s Williams sisters proved that they are the best Grand Slam doubles team of the era and perhaps of all time. The second seeds methodically marched through the field defeating top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the finals to defend their doubles title.
In the fourth game of the first set, Serena Williams was forced to serve for 15 minutes as the runner-ups jumped on Serena’s usually unstoppable serve. At the final break point, Black whistled a return to Serena’s feet and executed a follow-up drop shot that caught the stunned Williams flat-footed. The break put Team Black up 3-1.
Venus Williams began to assert herself, firing deep forehands that neither opponent could handle. Eventually, the sisters realized the Black was very much on her game and applied the majority of pressure to Huber, who seemed to be struggling with the pace. The champions broke twice to close out the 6-4 first set.
Venus Williams’s strong net play and power strokes dominated the final set. The Americans captured a game four break and held serve throughout to seal the championship 6-4, 6-3. The champions have now won four of the last five Grand Slam doubles events in which they have participated.
Mixed Doubles – Top seeds Leander Paes of India and Zimbabwean Cara Black withstood a stern challenge from unseeded Russian Ekaterina and Czechoslovakian Jaroslav Levinsky. Using timely serving and some terrific net play, the winners emerged with a 7-5, 6-3 straight set win in 68 minutes on the center court.
It was a welcome victory for Black who was still smarting from the doubles loss to the Williams sisters. For doubles specialist Paes, the triumph was his 11th Grand Slam title.
The runner-ups broke twice in the opening set but unfortunately suffered three of their five breaks in the opener. The final break came against Makarova in the 11th game.
Paes and Black broke in the first game of the second set to jump ahead 2-0. Marakova was pressured but held the third game to prevent a landslide. Paes’ strong net play backed Black’s serve and at 5-3, the winners broke again to close out the match.
For Black and Paes, the win marked their 19th men’s, women’s or mixed doubles title.
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