With the first Masters series well done and the tennis season heading into some very busy and exciting months with Miami coming up next followed by the clay-court season, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon, what can we expect?
Where are we left after the last one-and-a-half weeks of tennis display?
I bet that no one, and I mean no one, imagined that the respective winners would be named Ljubicic and Jankovic? If so, you are one heck of a gambler. But great tournaments from both of them!
But what lessons can we take with us?
1. Nadal is back and hopefully for good. He's been playing at a high level throughout his three 2010 tournaments and this one saw him back at full speed, maximum confidence, and at his ripping forehand best (even though it failed him in the middle of the match in the semis). This makes for an exciting 2010!
2. Federer is still beatable in three-set matches despite his phenomenal display in the five-setters in Melbourne and despite his declaration of meaning to win more between the Slams this year. How much was he inhibited by the lung infection and the lack of match-play? We don't know, but he did fail to close it out mentally. Possibly this will spur him to do better in Miami.
3. Ljubicic at 31 winning "the fifth" Slam? As already mentioned on BR, one can come a long way with a blistering serve and fearless groundies. It's great to see him hold his nerve and close it out in both the semi's and the finals. He deserved this win!
4. Roddick in another big final without winning it. Disappointing? Yes. However, him getting there is as important and I believe he will use the loss positively. It will be exciting to see what he can bring on his worst surface.
5. Djokovic is number two in the men's ranking, but do we really believe him to hold that position for long? He seems incapable of closing out matches in straight sets these days. Despite getting to show some signs of a new will to fight (Aus Open, Davis Cup, etc.), it is a bad signal that he isn't able to beat more players in straight sets.
6. The depth and the competitiveness of the men's field is incredible these days. It used to be all about Federer and Nadal, but there are so many top players now that can make legitimate title runs. Even from outside the top 10 as Ljubicic proved to us. This is new and very welcome.
With the Williams out beforehand, the field was open. Yet, could you not believe that one of the resurgent Belgians would hold the trophy in the end? Many certainly expected so. Which brings us to the first lesson learned:
1. The beloved returns of the two Belgians doesn't mean that they will make it to every final. We've come to expect that at least one of them will make the final (based on very few tournaments), but if this event tells us anything it is that both of them are not yet consistent. They lack match practice, they lack being on the court day in and day out in order to uphold a higher minimum level of play. But then again, who has that high minimum level in the women's game?
2. Jankovic winning big tournaments again? Really? Not only did she win it. She annihilated most of her opposition. After a long dip in form, it will be exciting to see, whether we get her back at her 2007-2008 level.
3. Wozniacki, the new number two!!! On the women's tour, she hasn't yet got a game to match another top player playing at their best. She tumbled through much of the tournament albeit playing very well against Kirilenko and Radwanska. In the final, she wasn't much of a match much like in the US Open final against Clijsters. Will she make an assault on Serena's position? Not likely with her current game. That said, she did make it to eight finals last year, an impressive number, that has brought her to a new career high ranking.
All in all? Apparently everybody can beat everybody these days. Which is exciting as long as the matches are decided by one player playing above level instead of the favorite playing below. We saw plenty of the former on the men's side and too much of the latter on the women's side.
What mostly struck me though was seeing Nadal now playing three tournaments in a row on a high level, probably even getting better with each one of them. This makes for an exciting spring and hopefully some soon to come clashes with Federer!