“I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I wasrdanieg…”
Patterns are easy to find, whether we want to or not. Tell it to anyone trying to proofread an article, or to a tennis fan trying to live in the present. In an era where every tournament is a site where a new all-time record can be set, it’s all too easy to fast forward from the future to history before the first ball is struck. From wondering about the dominance, demise and resurgence of the Big Four to betting on whether Serena Williams can catch Steffi Graf or Margaret Court in total Grand Slams, there’s so much history regularly at stake week in and week out that it’s easy to forget the smaller moments along the way.
This year’s Australian Open certainly delivered history: true to their seedings, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams captured the trophies, each adding to their historical legacies and extending their dominance over their present-day competition. But, in many ways, the final results at this year’s tournament were more anti-climax than coronation. Both rematches of frequent opponents, the finals themselves largely lacked suspense, as Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray were unable to defeat their nemeses once again. But, if you look beyond the patterns, this year’s tournament had incredible moments that shine more than the records set. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Serena Williams v. Madison Keys
It’s not unusual for there to be drama in a Serena Williams match. But it’s been a very long time since Serena’s subpar play was not the culprit in causing the drama. Even though she couldn’t sustain it over the match, Madison Keys showed that she could consistently out-Serena Serena, with driving shots and booming serves on key points, making for an improbably thrilling 6-2 second set in Williams’ straight set victory. Tennis is too unforgiving of its young to guarantee that Keys will be a permanent fixture on the upper reaches of the tour going forward, but here’s hoping that she perseveres. This is the kind of drama we could use a lot more of.
2. Novak Djokovic v. Stan Wawrinka
Ah, what a difference a year makes. Last year’s best match-up was a dud this year. While it provided more opportunities for hate-tweeting than Peter Pan and Smash put together, this semifinal also showed how hard it is to sustain success and high quality play. In this age of all court players (and increasingly similar playing surfaces), the top players populate the later stages of every tournament – an incredible feat of mental and physical endurance. Stan learned this one the hard way, as his 2014 successes left him drained in 2015. That said, I suspect it was worse for those who were watching live…I’ll confess that I fell asleep mid-match.
3. Stan Wawrinka v. Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori is probably glad that the Seahawks decided to throw on the one yard line on Sunday night. That bad call swept away the memories of Kei’s ill-considered drop shot in his quarterfinal match against Stan Wawrinka. But, the memory I’ll walk away with is the incredible display of hitting from Wawrinka. When the story of this era is written, Wawrinka may end up as a footnote to the Big Four’s dominance, but anyone watching him strike one stunning backhand after another will remember that, in his element, he could produce just as beautiful tennis as any of his colleagues, if not as consistently.
4. Andy @!$@#$ Murray and Kim #%&! Sears
When not extolling the virtues of female coaches, Andy Murray spent the latter stages of the tournament spewing the courtside tirades that were conspicuously absent when Ivan Lendl was in the players’ box – and this time Kim Sears got in on the act! It’s a good thing that British English has the word “whinge” already, since their sports writers would have otherwise had to make it up to cover Murray. Seeing Andy and Kim let loose in his match against Tomas Berdych was unexpected fun, as was watching Andy smolder from third set through the trophy ceremony and beyond against Djokovic.
While it’s easy to cast the Big Four as a Mount Rushmore of tennis, all dignity and good humor, the truth is that all four members have their moments of competitive fire, with Murray and Djokovic the most prone to unhinged on-court antics. Indeed, if Murray and Djokovic had been the first two to come to prominence, one wonders if the rivalry would have been marked with as much bonhomie and giggling as it has. One thing’s for sure – Kim would not be giggling at all.
5. WTF Pammy FTW
— Jamie O'Grady (@JamieOGrady) January 26, 2015
There are many things I could say about ESPN’s coverage. But, I think Pammy sums it up. I just hope that she convinces Cliffy to don a beret in Paris!