Australian Open 2014: Scene Is Set for Memorable Late Rounds at Grand Slam

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

Serena Williams of the United States makes a forehand return to Vesna Dolonc of Serbia during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Aaron Favila/Associated Press

The stage is set for some truly epic final rounds at the Australian Open.

With Round 3 halfway over, all of the top contenders are still alive Down Under. On the women's side, 11 of the top 14 seeds are all still in the hunt, including an intriguing Round 4 match already set between No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 14 Ana Ivanovic.

On the men's side, 10 of the top 11 seeds are still alive (including the top eight seeds), and the possibility for an excellent Round 4 showdown between No. 6 Roger Federer and No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is enticing.

What's perhaps even more impressive from the early play than the favorites all advancing thus far is the immense heat the players have endured. For four straight days now, temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the tournament directors have been vague about the threshold of heat the players would be forced to play through, the top stars have continued to play well and advance. Still, many of them aren't happy about the conditions, as Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated writes:

Andy Murray was spot on when he described the conditions as "inhumane." Agnieszka Radwanska said, "Some of the girls can't even talk after the match or practice. You can see who played a match—just so red."

But this wasn't unanimous. Speaking from the comfort of a television studio an ocean away, Andy Roddick gave voice to another school of thought when he said dismissively, "I used to hate it when they took us out of the extreme conditions and put us indoors, because I felt like I had worked in the offseason [on my fitness]."

Players also complained that the policy had never been articulated.

"It seems a little strange that the WTA trainers don't know what the threshold is," Maria Sharapova said after spending more than three hours in Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, fending off Karin Knapp of Italy.

While players should never be put through dangerous conditions—and these temperatures have reached dangerous levels, as Thursday saw the temperatures reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit, finally halting play until play resumed on the two courts with retractable roofs—the winner of this tournament will likely look back on this particular Open with a justified level of pride.

Aaron Favila/Associated Press

Not only did they beat the top competition in the world, they also bested Mother Nature. Of course, they'd probably just settle for beating the former without having to deal with the latter.

And as of now, there are no easy paths to win this tournament. We've mentioned the potentially epic Round 4 matchup between Federer and Tsonga, but keep in mind that the winner of that could be rewarded with a quarterfinal against No. 4 Murray.

Speaking of excellent quarterfinals, No. 3 David Ferrer and No. 7 Tomas Berdych are each one win away from facing one another in that round. Ditto for No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka.

And c'mon, we're all hoping for a semifinal between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and Murray.

Aaron Favila/Associated Press

On the women's side, there are just as many tasty matchups potentially on tap. A Round 4 meeting between No. 8 Jelena Jankovic and No. 11 Simona Halep? Yes, please. How about potential Round 4 matchups between No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki, or No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and No. 13 Sloane Stephens?

Hard to get better than that. Well, until the potential quarterfinal between Azarenka and Radwanska, that is.

While everyone loves an underdog, Grand Slams are truly special when the top players in the world lock horns and define their legacies. At this year's Australian Open—despite the savage heat—it appears we will be treated to such displays as we get into the later rounds of the tournament.

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