Each year, the Australian Open lets tennis fans know who came to Melbourne prepared for the new season and who still has kinks to work out. The first week of the tournament was pretty much straightforward, seeing virtually no upsets on the men’s side, and some (not surprising ones) on the women’s side—see Sam Stosur, Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova.
As we approach the end of the year’s first Grand Slam, lets look at the best and worst performances by the top seeds.
Maria Sharapova has come to this year’s Aussie Open with something to prove. After breezing through her first two matches without surrendering a game, she dismantled a struggling Venus Williams in the third round, dismissing any sign she was not prepared for the 2013 season.
Sharapova has not looked this good in Australia since 2008, where she won the tournament without dropping a set.
The woman who stole “SportsCenter Highlight of the Night” is now set to steal the spotlight in American tennis. The 19-year-old did the unthinkable Tuesday night, besting Australian Open favorite Serena Williams in three sets. Sloane Stephens outhit Serena when she needed to and played outstanding defense and got back everything Serena threw at her.
Though Serena seemed to be fighting a back spasm and herself at times, don’t count out Stephens because she is the real deal. Though she has her work cut out for her against world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka, look for Stephens to become a regular Top 20 player this season.
All eyes were on Azarenka at the beginning of the tournament to see how she would handle her status as defending champion, and so far she hasn’t let fans down. And she has actually managed to avoid the spotlight during the Open with Sharapova and Serena stealing it with their play.
Azarenka's first real test came in her quarterfinal against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, overcoming a 1-4 deficit in the opening set. Azarenka will obviously be the more experienced player when she faces Stephens on Wednesday and hopes to reach the final for the second straight year.
Armed with a new coach, Li looks to be coming back to her 2011 form (where she reached two Grand Slam finals, winning the French Open). She handed Agnieszka Radwanska her first loss of the season by outhitting and moving Radwanska off the court.
Li's new aggressive tactics will be needed if she wants to beat Sharapova in the semifinals. And her impressive play in Australia hopes to put her back at the top of the women’s game.
Like Sharapova, Roger Federer came hungry to the Australian Open. His tricky draw has not fazed him yet, looking impressive against an out-spoken Bernard Tomic and massive server Milos Raonic during the first week.
Tricky draws seem to help Federer play at a higher level, as we saw him narrowly escape Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last night. Murray will be the toughest match yet, but look for Federer to continue his run in Australia.
Novak Djokovic always shines in Melbourne, but many were questioning his health after escaping Stan Wawrinka in a five-hour battle. Tomas Berdych was waiting in the next round and had experience taking out the “Big Four” at this stage in a Slam, including Djokovic at the 2010 Wimbledon semifinals.
Djokovic silenced his critics, and Berdych, as he put away the Czech in four sets with no hindering of his movement or game.
Always under the radar, Ferrer lived up to his No. 4 seeding (due to Rafael Nadal’s absence) reaching the semifinals for the second time in his career. But it did not come without drama, as Ferrer did what he does best, fighting back against countryman Nicolas Almagro and winning the final three sets. H
e will have his work cut out for him against Djokovic on Wednesday.
Last but not least, Stanislas Wawrinka deserves a spot on the “best list” for his unbelievable effort against Djokovic. He gave it his all against the Serb, pushing him off the court for the majority of the match. The final match point says it all, with Djokovic whacking a backhand crosscourt winner.
Leave it to tennis and ESPN commentator Chris Fowler to sum it up the best, “We expected the routine, we got the extraordinary.”
Tennis analyst Cliff Drysdale made a bold prediction while watching Juan Martin del Potro’s second-round match, saying the young Argentine is due for another Grand Slam title this year.
Well, Del Potro has his work cut out for him, as he became victim of the first real upset on the men’s side, losing to Jeremy Chardy in five sets in the third round. After dismantling his first two opponents, Del Potro looked like he was more ready to board the plane home than to win the match against the Frenchman. The Argentine looked mentally frail and flat.
Credit to Chardy, who made Del Potro play defense from the first point and reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in his career.
Talk about ugly tennis. Petra Kvitova's performance against young Brit Laura Robson in the second round was discouraging for the Czech trying to compete with the world's best again. Kvitova learned that 18 double faults and 51 unforced errors won't win a match and still looks like her struggling self we saw at the WTA Championships last October.
Kvitova desperately needs to string a couple wins together to really get her season going because so far, 2013 hasn't been kind.
Some tennis players have the opportunity to play at their home Grand Slam, and in Sam Stosur's case, it's a curse.
Pressure was on her last year after winning the U.S. Open to get far in Melbourne, and she was bounced in the first round. 2013 wasn't much different, as Stosur choked to serve out the match against tough opponent Jie Zheng not once, but twice in the second round.
The good news for Stosur is that she won't have deal with this pressure again, until next January.
Venus Williams looked good in her early rounds before she was crushed by a motivated Sharapova, who is playing a great Australian Open. The question Venus must face is how much longer does the 32 year-old have on the WTA tour? She has the desire, as we saw last year, and this year as she strung together a four-match win streak at the Hopman Cup, but can her game keep up with the world's best?
As we saw Friday night, she still has a lot of work cut out for her.