Lessons from Melbourne

With the dust well and truly settled on Novak and Vika’s trophies, the tennis review looks back on the five lessons learned from the Australian Open 2013.

1. Everyone loves a one-handed backhand.

No doubt the best reaction of the fortnight was to Stanislas Wawrinka’s so-near-but-yet-so-far performance against Novak Djokovic in the last sixteen. Taking the ball on the rise, Stanislas hit his single-handed backhand with flair, liberty and creativity in what was a quite moving attempt to live up to his potential and take a big scalp at a Major. Time and time again he hit that backhand crosscourt and down the line for winners, a shot his opponent could do nothing about other than wait for it to start to miss. While he may have started missing in the end as the reality of actually delivering hit home, Stanislas’ talent did not pass by anyone as the tennis world reacted to his signature shot with nothing less than absolute admiration.

2. No one loves a tactical ‘medical time out’.

The crowd and tennis fan’s reaction to Azarenka’s well-timed medical time out as Sloane Stephens was about to serve to stay in the second set was nothing less than damning. Clumsy back tracking could not save Azarenka from a media and fan backlash. And deserved it was, too. Gamesmanship might be part of tennis but it is not, at the business end of a Major, acceptable. Alas the culture of tennis allows it to go on and it is up to tennis to ensure that it is a player’s game and not their gamesmanship that wins them the match.

 

3. Tennis gets the number ones it deserves.

The slow injury-inducing courts, the punishing heat, the lack of warm-ups, these were the conditions that the powers that be provide and the two players who thrived were the two most consistent, the two best defenders, two of the fittest if not the fittest players, and the two world number ones, Novak Djokovic and Vika Azarenka. They may not have the most flair or be the most likeable number ones, but tennis is not a popularity contest. It is a sport and the number one is the one who plays and wins the most and these two do exactly that in conditions that could not favor them any better.

 

4. The courts need to be speeded up.

Time and time again we watched as smashes and volleys were picked up from the back of the court, beyond the painted Melbourne signs, and sent past the player at the net for winning lobs and passing shots. Defensive players ruled in Melbourne and the attacking players lost out as they made unforced errors on their fifth or sixth attempt for a winner, frustrated at why the old game of coming forward and being aggressive was no longer the winning one on supposed fast courts that just refused to be hit through. While the gasps and oohs and aahs added to the atmosphere, there is no accounting for the zzzzzzs and shrieks of laughter that told all about some of the matches missed by the casual viewer. The courts need to be sped up a notch so that both aggressive and defensive players have a chance and to stop the game being more about athleticism than tennis skills. Defensive players have their surface, the red clay, and they get four solid months of it from February to June. The fast court players and the all court players deserve a real fast hard court to practise their skills, too, before grinding and not shotmaking become the norm and the zzzs drown out the gasps.

 

5. Pick yourself up and move on.

Twice Ni La fell and got back on her feet in the Women’s final. The first time she injured her ankle, the second time she knocked her head. Each time she came back out and competed with the world’s most consistent hard courter, Azarenka. The crowd loved her for it. If ever there was an example of getting back up on your feet, this was it. And though she lost, it hardly mattered to the crowd who applauded her as she lifted the runner-up plate more generously than they did the winner. Li Na promised she would be back next year to try to do one better, and after this display, we will take her word for it.

 

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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