We discuss our fondest memories from the Australian Open in this week’s Changeover Chat, a quick back-and-forth exchange between the writing staff at The Changeover.
Amy: The Australian Open is probably my favorite Slam. It’s the start of a new season, and even though it requires me to do crazy things with my sleep schedule, it’s always fun. What’s your favorite or most entertaining Australian Open memory?
Juan José: Here’s a nugget to get us started: 11 years ago, when Roger Federer was 20 years old, he was beaten in straight sets in the Round of 16 of the Australian Open by eventual finalist (!!!) Arnaud Clement.
Lindsay: That’s an amazing piece of trivia.
Juan José: I don’t remember that match at all (I’m not sure I knew who Federer was until 2003), but it’s amusing.
Lindsay: I’ll be honest, my Australian Open memories are all fairly recent. For years I only followed Wimbledon and the US Open because, you know, I wasn’t an insane person.
Amy: The 2009 Australian Open is one of the most entertaining to remember. Andy Roddick was beating Djokovic, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 2-1 in the quarterfinals, when Djokovic retired because of heat illness. Federer threw some major shade on Djokovic after the match.
Juan José: And then we wonder why the relations between Federer and Djokovic fans are strained!
Lindsay: I loved that Roddick/Djokovic match. It was the debut of the Stefanki years. I was so mad at Djokovic for not finishing, because Roddick was playing so well.
Amy: Well, apparently Fed was mad too!
Juan José: I actually think the Australian Open is the Slam I’ve had the longest “relationship” with out of the four. Which is rather strange, given that I’ve always lived in places where watching it involves being up at insane hours. My theory is that since Lapentti had his miraculous run to the semis in 1999, that tournament stuck with me, since that was a huge deal in Ecuador. Also, as an Agassi fan, that was a key one to follow in the early 2000s.
I remember thinking during the Lapentti-Enqvist semifinal match that my compatriot had no chance to make the final. I also remember Enqvist being annoyed at Lapentti for allegedly moving sideways during his service motion. (Enqvist was right – Lapentti was dancing around like a soccer goalie ahead of a PK at times.)
And now about the Djokovic fiasco. The 2009 Australian Open was a dark spot for him, really. Particularly because 2008 ended on such a high note – winning the World Tour Finals – and given that he had won the Australian Open the year before. But then Djokovic showed up in Australia with a Head racquet instead of his usual Wilson. He signed up for Brisbane, and lost in the first round to Ernests Gulbis (!!!) in straight sets. He then asked his way into Sydney, where he had a chance to reach the No. 2 ranking (a career high for him at the time) if he made the final. In the semis he faced Jarkko Nieminen, The Lone Knight of the Apocalypse. Not the most difficult opponent when trying to achieve a significant milestone, no? Well, he was, because Nieminen won. In straight sets. Then in Australia, that Roddick match happened.
In related news, I feel sick just by remembering all of that.
However, the 2009 AO will forever be dear to me because of the Nadal-Verdasco semifinal. Actually, thinking about that match and the Djokovic-Roddick fiasco seems like remembering two different events.
I’ve already gone on the record saying the Nadal-Verdasco match is the greatest one I’ve ever seen, so why not do it again? Naturally, the event where such a match happened ends up sticking in your memory afterwards.
Lindsay: I often wonder what the tennis world would look like if Verdasco had pulled out that match.
Juan José: Federer would have another Slam. And Nadal wouldn’t have a Career Slam. What I found fascinating about that particular match is that Nadal had to reach an insane level of tennis to finally defeat a trend that had sort of been established on his hard court Slam career: Nadal somehow always found himself getting ousted by the token random person who got hot for those events. In Australia that year, he was just mad as hell, and wouldn’t take it anymore.
Lindsay: But would winning the match have changed Verdasco any? Could he at least be a Tsonga? Or would he just be another Baghdatis?
Juan José: I pick the latter.
Amy: Yeah, it’s hard to imagine Verdasco as anything other than what he is now.
Juan José: The Australian Open tends to have random finalists, all the way down to the early 2000s: Schuettler, Clement, Thomas Johansson (who won), Baghdatis, Gonzo, Tsonga (At the time, that seemed like it could be the first of many Slam finals. Now, not so much.).
Lindsay: Yeah, it was always fun to see who the random Australian Open finalist would be. The Big Four have killed that dream, though.
Juan José: I love the Australian Open men’s semis. I’m convinced crazy stuff happens at that stage of that specific tournament, every single year. Like this, for example. I try to never miss them. About random finalists, there might be one this year! Grigor “Baby Gasquet” Dimitrov or BernieGOAT Tomic! Seriously, though, I actually have a gut feeling that we’ll see just one Big Four guy in the final.
Lindsay: I loved the 2008 Australian Open when Sharapova was in god mode. She had such a hyped match with Davenport – who was playing really well at the time – in the second round and Sharapova absolutely destroyed her. Then she didn’t stop. She killed Henin too.
Amy: The 2010 Aussie Open was fun because it started with the Hit for Haiti event. I still laugh at clips of that on YouTube.
Amy: Last year, watching Victoria Azarenka demolish everyone in her path was quite the experience. While everyone was waiting for Petra Kvitova to do that, Vika stepped in and filled that role. Azarenka’s early run made her No. 1 ranking possible in a year where Serena was pretty exceptional.
Juan José: Yes. I was particularly pleased at Azarenka’s run, because it was at the 2009 Australian Open where I pronounced my “famous” prediction that Azarenka would dominate the WTA one day, when I saw her dismantle Serena for a set and change, until the heat and some virus ended what could’ve been a huge upset.
It should be said that I then in later years I called that Azarenka “prediction” one of the dumbest things I’d ever said.
Lindsay: Last year was fun, Amy. And the WTA semis were great – somewhat disastrous, but really entertaining. All four semis were fun at last year’s AO – seems like that never happens.
Amy: The Clijsters-Azarenka semi was Azarenka’s only truly competitive match in the tournament. Similarly, Azarenka was kind of the Djokovic of 2011. Of course, Djokovic was even more impressive later in the year, but like Azarenka, his big winning streak started there. He was demolishing everyone. Djokovic has always played his best tennis in Melbourne.
Lindsay: Yes, and it was not expected for Djokovic in 2011.
Juan José: He only lost one set, and it was to Dodig.
Lindsay: Dodig, who you can see at Kooyong this week because everyone else withdrew!
Amy: Sweet! I’ll jump on a plane!
Juan José: Djokovic was back to sort of contender status after the 2010 US Open, but nobody thought he was the clear favorite for the 2011 Australian Open.
Here’s a funny thing about Djokovic and the Australian Open: every single time he’s won it, all he’s played in the lead-up were exos. In fact, Djokovic has won four of his five Slams after using exos as his only tune-ups.
Amy: That makes sense, since the Australian Open has more established warm-up exos than most of the other Slams. Wimbledon has a few, but there’s nothing of note before the French Open or US Open. Hopman Cup and Kooyong are mainstays. I think exos can be a great way for any player to get match practice, but not burn themselves out before the big event.
Juan José: I agree – too bad there aren’t any before the US Open or the French Open. Although the French Open sort of had an exo, with that weird World Team Cup that finally died this year. I think Djokovic benefits from not having much of a spotlight beforehand, kind of like Agassi years ago.
Lindsay: I love exos, but you can’t support a tour with them. But Australia is the perfect time for them since there aren’t any big point events before that. So you can have other options for the men. I think the women do a better job spreading out their big events.
Juan José: It’s just a unique situation before a Slam, and Djokovic certainly has benefitted from it.
Lindsay: In 2007, I remember when Serena literally played herself into shape during the tournament. That was incredible. Never seen anything like it. You could see that she was physically fitter at the end of the fortnight – her body looked different!
Juan José: All that talk about how Serena was out of shape, etc. Then she ends up killing everybody and hoisting the trophy. That was Shaq-esque.
Lindsay: Yup. It shows how narrow our views are.
Amy: Generally, call Serena out of shape at your own peril!
Lindsay: Jelena Dokic’s run in 2010 was amazing. I had chills.
Juan José: Yes! I remember that in that event, the ratings for her matches absolutely trampled the ratings for the men.
Amy: You know who had a nice Australian Open run? Tomic last year. He made the fourth round. And then had an awful rest of the year. It was disappointing. But maybe Tomic is finally an Aussie who will play well there. He really does seem to handle the hometown pressure well (in the limited time he’s played).
Juan José: Hey, Hewitt made the final one year!
Amy: Yes, Hewitt made the final one time, but he’s actually never made it past the fourth round other than that year, which is crazy. If you look at his career Slam history, Hewitt is an underachiever at the Aussie Open. It’s his worst win-loss record of all the Slams.
Lindsay: Still not over the fact that Hewitt had chickenpox and lost to a nobody in the first round the year that ToJo won it.
Juan José: Speaking of strange things, isn’t it kind of weird that Roddick never made the final of the Australian Open? He played some epic matches there and made the semis a couple of times. Why do you think that was, Lindsay?
Lindsay: He made the semis in ‘03, ‘05, ‘07, and ‘09. 2005 is the only one that feels like a missed opportunity. He lost to Hewitt and then Safin took out Federer on the other side. But in ‘07 and ‘09 he just ran into an on-fire Federer. Both were demolitions. After the 2007 loss was when he had that famous presser.
Lindsay: That was his first slam semi, he was barely top 10 then, and he was just coming off of the marathon match, so that wasn’t a bad loss at the time. But there were also some terrible losses. Recent years have hurt with his losses to Cilic and Wawrinka when I felt he could advance. And then last year when he got injured in the Hewitt match and had to retire, that was a gut-check. He had been playing well. But the absolute worst was his loss to Kohlschreiber in ‘08. I still have nightmares.
Lindsay: Of course he did. Speaking of 2008, that was when Tipsy almost beat Fed in the third round!
Juan José: Yes – that was an awesome match. It might be the best match Tipsarevic has ever played.
Lindsay: It was an insane match. But then Tipsy was Tipsy.
Juan José: Does Rod Laver Arena have the best crowd of all the Slams? They seem fair, and they go nuts if something cool is happening. Plus, you get the whole multicultural aspect there, with random guys (like Baghdatis) getting huge “local” crowd support.
Amy: Agreed, the Rod Laver Arena crowd is great.
So, the Australian Open comes with crazy sleep schedules. Like, insane stuff for those of us in the states. I remember one year I was on vacation and I just ended up entirely on Aussie time.
Lindsay: It’s crazy, Amy. But I think it makes the great matches stick out more, because they actually wake me up. The routine matches I usually watch in a daze.
Amy: This year, the plan is to squeeze in two naps between tennis and work, from around 5:00 am until 8:30 am, and at 5:00pm for a couple of hours. It’s truly the hardcore Slam for me. Sometimes I doubt my sanity.
You either make it work, or you fall asleep, like I did during last year’s six hour ball bounce-a-thon men’s final! It’s sink or swim.
Lindsay: It’s always crazy when there’s a night match that goes super late, like always, and suddenly the pre-work nap window is gone.
Amy: Yeah, that’s the best/worst.
Lindsay: I fall asleep a lot during the AO. I always have great intentions. I usually miss a lot though.
Juan José: I’m a night creature by nature, so it’s only been during 2009-2011 that I’ve struggled with the schedule, since I had a 9-to-5 job. The DVR helped in those cases, but you better believe I was up for those semis.
Amy: I love Twitter, because it takes care of the whole, “Am I insane for being awake at 4am watching a second round match in Australia?” thing.
Lindsay: We’re all in this together. Sometimes I think it’s comforting, other times I think we all just might be enabling each other. Oh man I’m looking back at all of Roddick’s Australian Opens and remembering so much middle-of-the-night heartbreak. But there are also so many great memories, like the Roddick/El-Aynaoui match (which I have watched on replay since.)
Amy: Such a great match. I was watching that recently on ESPN Classic.
Lindsay: He was such a kid!
Amy: Yes he was.
Lindsay: Delpo/Blake in 2010 was a great match. I woke up for the end of it and was in awe at the hitting.
Amy: Yup, they played in the second round. Delpo won in five sets. Delpo was basically destroying his wrist at that point, unfortunately.
Lindsay: You could pretty much see it breaking during the match. Blake’s hard hitting did not help. But still, incredible shot-making.
Amy: One of the best WTA matches I’ve ever seen.
Amy: Final thoughts?
Juan José: Remembering all these things has gotten me all pumped up for the Australian Open. I have such great memories from late night craziness.
Lindsay: Yup. I guess I feel like Australian Open is the most unexpected Slam. It’s the beginning of the season and even the old rivalries feel fresh. I’m excited to get things going and have some new dream-like memories.
Amy: Yeah, everything seems fresh. It’s the one event where you never hear anyone complaining that everyone’s burnt out and beat up. Everyone (except maybe Ferrer and Radwanska) is well-rested and ready to start the season. I can’t wait!