Wednesday is Mail Bag Day … but first: here are three macro thoughts from the 2021 Australian Open.
• History calls. Call it a karmic reward for the amount of time it took to get this event going. But it is increasingly likely that it is a truly historic event. In particular, Serena Williams is four sets away from winning that elusive 24th major singles title. Of course, we’ve been here before, five times, to be precise, over the last four years. But Serena is moving well, hitting well and serving well. Pet Theory: You also benefit from not having a crowd or having a reduced crowd. Novak Djokovic is two games away from winning the Australian Open for the ninth time, which would give him more titles in Melbourne than Roger Federer has at Wimbledon.
• We talk a lot here about tennis data. The shortcomings and flaws. The ways in which it can be useful both for telling a story and for evaluating performance. But the more you look at tennis, the more you realize that there are elements of the sport that cannot be quantified. One of them is simply [insert your own cliché here] the will to win or not accept defeat. There are a small handful of players, the aforementioned and perhaps adding Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal, who simply refuse to give a quarter when the game gets tight. Either Djokovic prevailing in Zverev’s match that just ended … or Osaka’s face match point against Garbiñe Muguruza and then passing the next 22 points without making a mistake … or Nadal breaking his serve and then breaking back … there have been so many games where the champion simply exhibits an ineffable quality that the challenger doesn’t have.
• Is there a sport that works better than tennis to provide occasional Cinderella stories? This event may not be over yet, but we can crown a winner in Aslan Karatsev. The element of surprise here is almost comical. Here’s a 27-year-old who had won a total of three Tour-level matches, none of them in a Major. In the previous major, he failed to qualify. Here he did qualify, which meant going to Australia for two weeks of quarantine. But in five games, he has completely rewritten his career and finances. A hard-hitting Russian (yes, they keep coming) beat a committed Grigor Dimitrov to reach the semi-finals. He has already made more money here than he has ever made in his entire tennis career. More importantly, he has finally established himself as a fully trained professional. Read more about its history here, and if you don’t feel supported by him on some level, see your cardiologist right away.
Hi Jon! Obviously, a lot of attention has been paid to Jessica’s background as the daughter of the Buffalo Bills and Sabers owners. In her interviews, I heard that she has said that there are benefits and challenges that come from coming from a well-known sports family. You are understandably more comfortable talking about challenges than privileges, so I hope you can have a say in those. Obviously, no amount of money can buy the skills you have, but money can buy a lot of other things: coaches, travel, time off to recover from injuries, opportunities. But what do you think? Would you be in the position you are in now without those financial resources?
• Hopefully we are getting closer to the point where we can talk about Jessica Pegula without referring to her parents, Bills Mafia, and her household income. Carly Simon’s father was the founder of Simon & Schuster. Loretta Lynn – to choose one musician among thousands – grew up in extreme poverty. Kevin Durant was sometimes homeless as a teenager. Steph Curry grew up in the comfort of a country club, the son of an NBA player. For some artists, privilege allows them to carry out their activities without pressure. For others, it reduces motivation. On the other hand, poverty can be a motivator; it can also work against success.
I give Jessica a big credit. She is not a diva. She plays like no diva. And I’m sure there were countless times when he could have left tennis for a more conventional and nurtured life. However, she persisted.
Five of the eight men’s quarter-finals are of Eastern European descent, and Zverev, although born in Germany, is of Russian bloodline. Is the center of gravity of men’s tennis shifting from Spain and Western Europe to the Balkans and Russia? And where is the United States in this mix?
• Martina made a similar comment the other day, noting that 53 of the 128 players came from Slavic lineage. That is incredible.
What’s something non-obvious that has impressed you the most at the Australian Open so far?
–Rich R., Denver
• I was going to say that Donna Vekic became the first player in tennis history to honestly answer a question about one opponent’s preference over another. (Not requested, we might add!)
P. Kaia has a reputation for being dangerous at Grand Slams. When you saw that you were going to play with her, what was your game plan?
DONNA VEKIC: Actually, I’d rather play her than Kenin.
But instead I would say the overall quality of the game and the overall quality of the draw. This was a side event in many ways. Quarantines. The spectrum of COVID. The date changed. The crowds. The no crowds. However, look at the drawing and you will see a lot of chalk and a lot of familiar names. Certainly no less than in previous years. He also watches a lot of great tennis and no more retirements than we usually witness.
Point 1: these are highly conditioned athletes and supreme professionals. Spending two weeks in quarantine is not an ideal preparation; but it is not fatal either.
Point 2: the best players are the best players. Use them with rackets or pans. Old strings, new strings, fast tracks, slow tracks.
Can anyone tell Gauff not to yell “Let’s go” after every point he wins? It was very unpleasant. I’m not a professional, but I could see that the opponents were totally irritated by it. Imagine if Fognini were on the other side of that! Svitolina was just a business and she was glad she kept the spotlight on her side.
• I don’t care about Coco’s “come on” at all. She tells them herself, without histrionics. There are certainly louder players. I would add that in an event without a crowd, it is more important that the players get energized.
Jon, I honestly think Djokovic hurts himself on sandbags just out of sympathy. Are you trying too hard to please?
–Bob Romero, Monee, Ill.
• Challenge athletes’ injuries at their own risk. I don’t think I have to make sandbags necessarily. I think this is more of Djokovic’s oversight, rather than malice. He said he had torn an abdominal muscle. A torn muscle? That sounds a) horrible and b) like the kind of injury that will only get worse by playing. Then when I win, watchers: here it is Patrick Mouratoglou-The question. And Djokovic then says he doesn’t want to talk about his health.
I think this piece is worth reading: Novak Djokovic: unfair media representation affects me but will never break my spirit. As we’ve said (often), the view here is that Djokovic is a good guy who makes a lot of unforced errors off the pitch.
Is there a shot clock at the Australian Open? Watch Fognini go almost 35 seconds between points with no reaction from the referee?
• I also realized this. There is a clock. But it’s never clear when it kicks in.
We see a lot of good things in the future of men’s professional tennis. Bring on the young cannons! During the first three rounds, some of the most interesting matches: Shapovalov against Sinner, Kyrgios against Humbert, Tiafoe vs. Djokovic, Kokkinakis vs. Tsitsipas, Kyrgios vs. They.
We believe that the 25-second rule is an imperfect tool. He seems to have hurt Frances Tiafoe, a guy who sweats even more than Nadal, perhaps unnecessarily. We really enjoyed the close encounters with the tennis professionals; and the podcast with Robbie Koenig.
–David and Sherrie, Northern California
• Thank you and amen.
What, without ‘F’, or at best a ‘D’, for the AO mobile app? Even with multiple updates, it still requires multiple attempts to open it. And it’s not cool once it does. It’s 20 damn 21, how hard can this be ?! ??
–Helena from DC
• I try not to traffic in D and F. Snowflakes! Degree inflation! But I am with you. And while we’re here, what about “D” for tubed crowd noise? Which, oddly, has included laughter.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.