Tennis Bytes: From Australian Open Results To Predicting Winners...and Losers

Linus Fernandes@mktimeforsportsAnalyst IIFebruary 14, 2011

The Third Force
The Third ForceClive Brunskill/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic played spoilsport at the 2011 Australian Open annexing his second major after a dry spell of three years.

Sportswriters were forced to scramble to change the headlines they had imagined citing either a Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer triumph. They had to reinvent their catch-phrases.(Damn you, Djokovic!)

The Serb’s victory was welcomed as the emergence of the Third Force.

The fallout was swift. In a rush to hail the rise of the young brigade, ‘tennis pundits’ were quick to pronounce death sentence on the Federer- Nadal rivalry.

It may soon be a case of the doomsayers having to eat their words all over again.

However, they are not totally wrong.

Roger Federer is in decline. No mortal can expect to be better than his best—not even the great Swiss.

Yes, the maestro dominated the hard-court season. But it is increasingly a case of his not being able to come up with that extra surge required to claim victory. The Swiss played well within himself in his last two matches at the Australian Open. It was good enough to best his fellow compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka but not the red-hot Novak Djokovic.

The Swiss is content to stick to his promise of being around for a few more years. Longevity might ensure another couple of Slams but it will be an essay in patience and depend on other contenders cannibalising themselves in their quest for Slam glory.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has gone on record saying that the Nadal-Federer era is over.

He is right and wrong at the same time.

The Nadal-Federer rivalry is past its heyday. There will be many more rivalries in the coming days—smaller ones albeit but significant nonetheless.

Write off the Mallorcan at your own peril.

The Spaniard was well on his way to complete an historic ‘Rafa Slam’  when human frailty intervened. The Pirate outclassed the Serb at the 2010 US Open final. His mental strength is extraordinary and it is anyone’s guess that had he been healthy, he would have made the young pretender merely go through his paces.

For Djokovic, it is sweet redemption. After struggling in the wilderness at the majors over the past three years, the Serbian is now proud winner of two cherished trophies in the span of two months. The Davis Cup adorns his showcase and replicas of two Australian Open trophies glitter alongside.

It could not have happened to a more likable character. That the young Serb was willing to put aside rest and recuperation —at the expense of jeopardising his Australian Open aspirations—for the team title is commendable.Can a  better case be made for enjoying the game more culminating in a more relaxed frame of mind—an attitude  more amenable to withstanding the heat of a Grand Slam?

Luck played its part. It is common knowledge that the Serb has wilted under the gaze of a fiery sun. The 2011 Australian Open summer was one of the coolest ever.

Andy Murray would well have believed that it was his time in the sun, his chance for glory. But, unfortunately, those thoughts were left behind in the locker room when he stepped out on court. His straight sets loss to the Serbian confirmed the tag of choker.

The Scot has to work on his mental game more than his technique and style. The added pressure of being The Last Great British Hope does not help.

Murray has to remind himself that history books exist only to be rewritten. After all, it is his story.

Finally, Robin Soderling will ask himself if he is destined to win a Grand Slam. Following in the footsteps of forbearers such as Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and Thomas Johannson is burden enough.

The Swede made the mistake of underestimating his Ukrainian opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov in Melbourne.

The rapid strides the Swede has made over the past couple of years demand that he be rewarded with a major. The French Open in May is his best chance to secure glory. Should Nadal stumble for whatever reasons, the Swede can be marked out to be the man to stand on the rostrum, come the final. Not Roger Federer , not Andy Murray, not Novak Djokovic.

Of the three exciting players—Bernard Tomic,Milos Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov—who displayed their wares and announced their talent on the big stage of Melbourne Park, Dolgopolov is the one to keep a keen eye on.

However, it is the Canadian Milos Raonic who finished this weekend on a high. He claimed his first ATP Tour Title knocking out defending champion Fernando Verdasco is straight sets 7-6(6), 7-6(5) Sunday at the San Jose SAP Open.

The Ukrainian finished runner-up at the Brasil Open in Costa do Sauipe losing to Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro 3-6, 6(3)-7.

The Ukrainian will crack the top 30 for the first time in his fledgling career.

Soderling was the other victor defending his Rotterdam title, knocking out Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the final.

One man who disagrees with the Frenchman’s assessment of the Rafa-Federer rivalry is World No. 15 Ivan Ljubicic.

The Croatian said:

“When they play, they play absolutely their best, and it’s really difficult to beat them. It makes a difference at the end of the day that they never give up on a single point. They are always in great shape when they have to be in the big tournaments. They are able to compete everyday and really give their absolute best when they are on the court, which I don’t think was always the case with past champions.

I always felt with [Pete] Sampras and [Andre] Agassi they had two or three tournaments where they were not good at all and they would lose first round. That’s not happening with these two guys. That’s why they’ve been up there for such a long time, because it’s really difficult to win one single game against them.”

The French Open is going nowhere but it's getting bigger. The French Tennis Federation announced on Sunday, the 13th of February, 2011,that The French Open will continue at the Roland Garros venue. The new site is expected to be expanded to 13.5 hectares from 8.5.

Quote of the day: 
The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank. – Dante Gabriel Rossetti


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