Amy: The Australian Open is in the books. Aside from what’s been discussed ad nauseum, what stuck with you from all the action Down Under?
Juan José: It’s interesting to think back at where we were before the tournament started. We had two seemingly inevitable winners lined up. Djokovic did end up winning the men’s tournament, but he was pushed to the brink by Stan Wawrinka (of all people) in the fourth round. And Serena got bounced by Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals, but you could say that her tournament got completely derailed by that ankle injury she suffered in the first round. Of course, that was later compounded by the back pain. So, the lesson is that the inevitable can be stopped by really random and unlucky events.
Lindsay: You’re right- we once again learned that nothing is given. However, Djokovic did win and Serena was stopped primarily by injury, so we weren’t crazy far off. But I think when I look back on this tournament, I’m going to remember the resiliency of Djokovic and Azarenka, though it manifested itself in very different ways in each player.
Djokovic won in every possible way- while playing out of his mind (Ferrer), while proving how fit he was (Berdych), while proving how mentally tough he was (Stan), and while proving he could win when not playing his best (final). I found that impressive, and a testament to the evolution of his psyche.
Meanwhile, Azarenka overcame enormous external factors and pressures to defend her title. Her tears afterwards will really stick with me because they prove that she was aware of all the drama, but was able to suppress it just long enough to win.
Amy: Azarenka was really strong under fire. I can’t imagine how she felt dealing with that while trying to defend her Slam title.
Juan José: I’m also left with the impression that the Australian Open is the most well run Slam by about a mile. Not that I didn’t find issues to complain about during the fortnight: Court 8 should have had Hawk-Eye on it, the extra day for one of the men’s semifinalists is just weird, and the fireworks during the women’s final were a complete disaster. Otherwise, they’re a really forward-looking Slam. And it was interesting to see the nice words that both Azarenka and Djokovic had for Craig Tiley.
Amy: Roger Federer impressed me. I saw fight in him that has sometimes been completely lacking in the last couple years, particularly in 2011. He’s not the dominant player he once was, but I think his desire to win is now close to the strongest it’s ever been. He relied on that in Australia when he was fighting through two tough five-setters. I didn’t even think Murray should’ve been taken to five, but Federer pulled off a pretty amazing comeback to take that fourth set. He may not have won the match, but I’ve never seen him fight like that in recent years. If anyone questioned his desire to continue to play, I think those two matches against Tsonga and Murray should put those questions to rest.
Lindsay: I agree, Amy.
Juan José: I even thought Federer should have lost to Tsonga, and not even in five sets. It was interesting to see the old man trying to find ways to outwit and outplay guys who were better than him on the day.
Lindsay: Besides Vika, the players that impressed me most were Stan and Sloane.
Juan José: I agree about Stan – he sure played like the token Australian Open Random Semifinalist this year, but unfortunately, he was in Djokovic’s quarter. What if he had been in Ferrer’s?
Lindsay: Completely different story, I think. That Wawrinka-Djokovic match will stick with me for a long, long time.
Juan José: It was tough seeing Stan lose the best match he’s ever played, but that tends to happen when your opponent is one of the best players in the world. Just ask Fernando Verdasco. I do agree with Stan in saying that there were a lot more positives than negatives about his Australian Open. I think he showed himself how far he could push the best in the game. He was really, really close to a huge upset.
Lindsay: Yup. He pushed Djokovic way farther than anyone else, and Djokovic wasn’t even playing that poorly!
Amy: I’ve loved the way Stan’s been playing for some time now, probably since last summer. I think he’s primed for a big 2013, provided that match result doesn’t crush him.
Lindsay: I hope he has a good Davis Cup and can immediately push it out of his mind. I’m very excited for Berdych-Wawrinka this weekend.
Who were you guys most disappointed in?
Juan José: I’m going to go with Radwanska. She looked so good against Ivanovic, and then she got brushed aside by someone she beat the week before.
Lindsay: Interesting, JJ – even though Li Na backed up her win?
Juan José: Sure, Li Na made the final, but I expected more from the ex-Ninja.
Lindsay: As an Aga fan I was disappointed, but less so after seeing Li Na destroy Sharapova. The same goes for Querrey – I was disappointed in his defeat by Wawrinka, but less so when I saw how Stan took it to Djokovic.
Amy: I didn’t like the way Radwanska played vs. Li. She was super passive, and didn’t find any solutions. Yes, Li had an amazing tournament, but it seemed like Radwanska was kind of down and out of the match.
Juan José: I guess Radwanska resorted to being the old Radwanska, just when I thought she was this cocky top four player who was going to be making Slam semis all the time now. But, I think you make a good point, Linz – Radwanska did end up losing to the eventual finalist.
What I liked about Radwanska’s performance against Ivanovic was that she was very purposeful, very direct in how she was going to win that match. That’s what I want to see more often from her, not the Ninja stuff anymore.
Lindsay: Li just took the match completely off of Aga’s racket. She went for winners all the time, and never let Aga even have time to get crafty. Very few players can get away with doing that against Radwanska, but Li did. If anything, I was disappointed that she seemed a step slow. Her scheduling continues to be suspect.
Amy: For my disappointment, I’ll go with Juan Martin del Potro. It doesn’t get more disappointing than losing to Jeremy Chardy in five, after fighting back from two sets down. What a pointless effort, only to crumble in the fifth set. Credit to Chardy for playing a great match, but it’s still not a match Del Potro should’ve lost.
Juan José: Del Potro is the consensus disappointment pick, yes. He gets the Marin Cilic award. Del Potro was healthy, he had a great end to 2012, looked good in the previous rounds, and then he lost to Jeremy Chardy? Jeremy Chardy, of all people! How does that even happen?
Amy: It’s a Delpo thing. He has these days where he can’t play, and instead of trying to win, he just sort of meekly goes away. It’s what separates him from the Big Four.
Juan José: I guess that’s another takeaway from the men’s side: the Big Four is still a pretty exclusive group, with no potential members in sight.
Lindsay: He doesn’t have a Plan B or the ability to fight through his bad days. Chardy is so aggressive that it didn’t even give him a chance to feel his way to victory. It was bizarre, and it was sad, and it was a sign that he still has a long way to go.
I don’t mean to pile on, but I was disappointed in Nico Almagro. I mean … really?
Amy: Yeah, Almagro was a train wreck. That match was hard to even watch.
Juan José: That was the most Almagro thing ever: serve for the match three times, then get injured and lose in five.
Lindsay: It was such a shame, because his tennis in the first two sets was impressive.
Amy: I have to say, I was disappointed in Ferrer. Not because of the way he played against Djokovic, but because of what he said after the match.
Lindsay: Yes, his attitude in pressers continues to annoy me.
Amy: It made me so angry. I don’t want to hear how much better your opponents are. I want to hear that you believe you can beat them. There’s such a thing as giving credit to your opponent without diminishing yourself in the process.
Juan José: It might be too late for that, which is a shame. But at some point somebody needs to tell Ferrer that this kind of discourse doesn’t do him any favors on court, nor off of it.
Lindsay: I was also disappointed in Petra Kvitova. She’s better than this.
Juan José: Kvitova was quite worrying. 18 double faults in one match, and she got out-veteran-ed by a 19-year-old.
Lindsay: And, once again – not to pile on – but, really Sam Stosur?
Juan José: At this point, this is like an annual tradition, right? How will Sam Stosur flame out of her home Slam? It still reminds me so much of Mauresmo at the French Open. But Mauresmo had the excuse that clay wasn’t really her best surface.
Lindsay: It’s one thing if you come out flat and never get into the match, but to be up 5-2 in the third is a different level.
Juan José: Stosur mixes it up so that people don’t write the same story every year.
Another thing that stuck with me: the ATP prospects can’t return serve to save their life. It’s amazing that after a golden generation of pretty great returners, it’s as if these kids haven’t been watching contemporary tennis.
Lindsay: Yup. But at least the WTA prospects provide a lot hope for the future.
Juan José: The WTA is loaded with promise. They just have to hope that the bad luck that has plagued their elite in the past decade doesn’t strike again with this collection of talent. But in terms of prospects, it’s not even close: women’s tennis looks far more promising than men’s tennis after the Big Four ride into the sunset, whenever that might be.
Amy: I’m beginning to think it’s never. (Not actually, but that’s how it feels.)
Juan José: You never know with these things. When something seems like it’s going to last forever, the next minute it’s over and nobody knows how it happened.
Lindsay: I thought our runner-ups showed a lot through their attitudes. Murray’s demeanor proved that he knew he would be there again. It wasn’t his day, but he’ll be back. He didn’t feel sorry for himself like he used to.
Amy: Yeah, I was really impressed with Murray throughout the whole tournament. His match against Federer was great. He finally got past that mental block of beating him in a Slam.
Juan José: I just realized the other day that Murray has made three straight Slam finals. That’s amazing.
Lindsay: Li Na was just so inspiring. And who knows how that final would have turned out if she hadn’t lost her footing, quite literally.
Juan José: And even when Li Na did get the injury, she had that wide open backhand on break point at 2-3 to get back on serve in the second set. What if she didn’t miss that one? She ended up breaking later.
Lindsay: She has reinvigorated her career at the age of 30 by trusting herself to Carlos Rodriguez, and I’m so happy she has. Great to have her in the mix.
I also have to say that I was disappointed in Kerber, though I’m maybe more worried now about her back.
Amy: I think we can chalk that one up to some injury problems. I hope it’s nothing serious.
Lindsay: Those Germans are cursed.
Juan José: I would’ve loved to see a Kerber-Sharapova match-up, but the injury just got in the way.
Lindsay: Lisicki was another disappointment.
Juan José: Lisicki should have won that match against Wozniacki easily. I wonder if Ricardo Sánchez can teach her how to be patient and make more efficient use of her incredible talent.
Amy: How about Tommy Haas, speaking of German disappointments? He lost to Jarkko Nieminen in the first round. That’s just a bad loss.
Juan José: It’s not making me feel great about my prediction that Haas won’t retire this year.
Lindsay: I’m most sad about Brian Baker. That was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on a tennis court.
Juan José: Ugh, that sucked.
Amy: That was just hard to watch. You never want to see that, but especially for a player who’s gone through so much.
Juan José: It just proves, like the Serena issue did, that you can be as fit as you want, but a bad injury can strike at any moment. Luck is a significant component in these things.
Lindsay: Despite the fact that they both lost in the quarterfinals, Kuznetsova and Tsonga both impressed me.
Amy: Yeah, Tsonga played a very good match against Federer. And I definitely started to buy into Kuznetsova a little bit.
Lindsay: They may never be the players we want them to be, but they both seem motivated and willing to put in the work, and that’s good to see.
Juan José: Tsonga played like the Tsonga of old. But he also lost like the Tsonga of old. Still, given how he had regressed last year, at least there’s hope that he can move forward now. The clock is ticking for him.
Amy: Tsonga could’ve easily gone away after Federer won the second and third sets, but he fought back really well. I mean, at the end of the day, Federer is a better player than Tsonga, but it was an improvement from Tsonga over his recent efforts against the Big Four.
Juan José: The problem for Tsonga was not going away after losing a set — it was keeping the foot on the gas pedal after winning a set. Which makes no sense. Tsonga was flat at the start of the third and fifth sets, and that’s what ended up costing him the match.
I’m disappointed in Tomas Berdych. He got to play Djokovic right after the five hour Wawrinka match, and he came out without any semblance of a strategy or much belief in himself. He ended up with two breadsticks and a set for all his troubles.
Amy: Agreed. Berdych’s performance was frankly embarrassing in that match. That first set was hilarious. He was just standing there. I have no idea what he was expecting from Djokovic, but he was completely unprepared for the match.
Juan José: Berdych just saw Djokovic get pushed to the limits by that wonderful first-strike clinic from Stan Wawrinka. What does Berdych do? Come out and try to rally with Djokovic without looking to attack much. That was just bizarre from someone with his experience.
Amy: Yes, bizarre from someone with his experience. But not bizarre for Berdych, sadly.
I liked what Tomic showed in Melbourne. Ferrari antics aside, I like his new attitude.
Lindsay: I’m still undecided on Tomic. Also on Raonic. Also on Harrison. It’s a shame that the three biggest prospects all played top guys early. It’s hard to hate on them after losing to Federer and Djokovic, but …
Juan José: It’s hilarious how symmetrical Tomic’s career is: two straight years with great results in Australia, two straight years losing to Federer in straight sets, two straight years with a traffic problem due to speeding, and two straight years with entitled-sounding comments after his legal issues.
Amy: Hey, he won his first career title! Not a bad way to start the year. But of course he really needs to prove he can play outside of Australia.
Juan José: Kidding aside, Bernie was a lot of fun for the first two sets of the Federer match. He should have won the second – he had a big lead in that tiebreak.
Amy: Tomic played Federer much tougher than he did last year. I also thought Federer was in pretty good form for that match. There wasn’t much any non-Big Four opponent could’ve done against him. Tomic fought for the whole match.
Juan José: I was pleasantly surprised by Bernie’s weird forehand, but unpleasantly surprised by his horrendous return of serve.
Lindsay: Dimitrov was a huge disappointment. He lost in straights to Benneteau in the first round.
Juan José: And how Cilic loses to Seppi, only Cilic knows.
What if Djokovic and Murray are set for complete dominance of the ATP for the next five years? I mean, who on earth can challenge them, given what we saw at the Australian Open? Nadal and Federer will be around for a couple more years, but after that?
Amy: I don’t think that’s the case. It’s easy to take one tournament and imagine the consequences sustaining themselves for longer periods of time. In reality, whoever’s hot now might not be hot even a few months from now.
Juan José: The Big Four might downsize into the Big Two, but man, are the guys from ‘87 well positioned.
Lindsay: I’m scared. Someone else has to step up.
Amy: They will.
Juan José: Oh, we didn’t mention that ESPN did their usual Bad ESPN things. But I avoided most of it due to the wonderful ESPN3.
Lindsay: I am glad we survived the Australian Open. I’ve probably never watched this much of it. I couldn’t have survived without you guys.
Amy: My sleep routine nearly killed me, but I lived to tell about it. I feel about 10 times better already, just having gotten a couple full nights’ sleep. I was living off three and four hour naps.
Juan José: For the first time it struck me how manic the first week is.
Lindsay: Yup, I need a detox.
Juan José: I remember the night I had leftover Mexican food at 7:00 a.m. Was that dinner? Breakfast? Lunch? It was all very confusing.
Amy: I ate some questionable meals. I think I ate mac and cheese for breakfast once.
Juan José: It was all so confusing, but I loved having our readers along for the ride. They made the craziness worth it. So thanks again to all of you out there!