A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

7 Thoughts from the Australian Open

with 4 comments

1. Rafael Nadal‘s injury was a shame. You hate to see a guy going for an amazing accomplishment like the Grand Slam stopped by injury. On the other hand, no asterisks should be placed on the tournament on the idea that Nadal wins if not for the injury. The truth of the matter is that Nadal has never reached a point where he has impressive odds of winning a particular hard court tournament.

2. It was great to see Djokovic step up. He looks like he’s finally ready to take that next jump, which I was beginning to think he didn’t have in him. It’s going to be interesting, presuming he keeps this up, to see him square off over the next year against Nadal. I don’t expect that anything but injury will keep Nadal from repeating as Player of the Year, but I also think the Djoker has a very good chance at keeping Rafa from ending the year on another 3 Slam streak.

3. Andy Murray‘s destruction in the finals at the racket of Djokovic is definitely discouraging for the guy. However, the reason everyone is talking about it is misguided. “3 finals, 3 losses”, they say, implying the man is a choker – and granted if there’s one national media capable of turning all their citizen athletes into chokers, it is the British. He hasn’t exactly faced weak competition though in those 3 finals. He’s been the underdog all 3 times, and each time the favorite has played stellar. The “choking” shouldn’t bother Murray anywhere near as much as the fact that it looks like he’s peaked, and he’s clearly a step below 2 guys his own age. This tournament gave Murray about as good of a break he could hope for not having to face a real contender until the finals, and he still didn’t seem close to the promised land. At this point, there’s a solid chance he’ll never get there.

4. We were wondering when Federer would fall out of the top 2. Yeah, technically he’s been ranked 3rd at times, but he hasn’t been considered worse than the 2nd best player in the world in about 8 years. Now I think you’ve got to put Djokovic ahead of him in addition to Nadal. Of course the 3rd best player sometimes wins majors, so it’s certainly possible  Fed will win some more, but it’s going to get a lot harder from here on out.

5. Clijsters I’ve already written about, but it is worth noting that she doesn’t have a game that’s particularly sensitive to surface. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if she wins the French Open or Wimbledon and joins the ranks of those who’ve held 3 major tournament titles at once.

6. Caroline Wozniacki thus far appears to be an anomaly. In recent years, we’ve either seen women players breakthrough to become slam winners, or self-destruct under the pressure. In either case, it’s less a matter of talent than mental fortitude. Woz seems quite mentally stable so far, but just not talented enough to beat whoever is hot at the moment. Kind of reminds me of Lleyton Hewitt, except he had just enough to actually win a couple majors, and it’s not clear if Woz ever will.

7. However, Wozniacki remains the star of the young generation thus far. It’s amazing that with women’s tennis we essentially have the best women athletes in the world because you can make more money as a women’s tennis player than any other kind of women athlete – and yet we haven’t seen a breakthrough of any top tier performers in years. I tend to subscribe to the theory that the superstars at any given time vary greatly in quality, while the “pack” behind them tends to be quite stable in its level assuming there’s no major changes to the sporting landscape – so such a dearth at the top isn’t *that* weird. Still pretty surreal though.

Written by Matt Johnson

February 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

4 Responses

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  1. One point. Rafa may also have peaked.

    This is a harsh thing to say about a 24 year old, but his tennis relies on an extremely physical style of game, using a lot of power (more than Sampras did, for instance). He’s supremely skilled, absolutely (with really good defense, an underrated part of his game), but enough to beat other players if his physical advantage slips?

    The current crop of women are an interesting bunch, especially as I don’t expect the Williams to make more than sporadic appearances from now on. You’re right, there’s no standout, but I’m inclined to view this as a positive. Fewer bagel games would be good. 😉


    February 4, 2011 at 4:18 am

    • You’re completely right on Rafa. We really don’t know what to expect from him because of his unique style. I’ll say this though: 1) It won’t shock me if Nadal eclipses Federer’s records, and 2) and if Nadal doesn’t do it, I don’t think anyone does it for a very long time.

      Re: women’s parity. I don’t like it. I want good competition, but it needs to happen out of strength not weakness.

      Matt Johnson

      February 4, 2011 at 10:52 am

      • Agree to disagree then. Women’s tennis over the past twenty-odd years has been very much a couple of really good players and the rest. Personally, I don’t like that competition structure. A broader base of talent (more accurately a strong and consistent top 10) is my preferred model. However, having a Women’s Number One who can win a frigging major would be helpful.

        Also, with reference to Nadal, Djokovich really shocked me how well he played in the semi and the final. I don’t. Rafa was clearly hobbled against Ferrer, but even a full-strength Rafa would have struggled to impact that sort of game.

        Having said that, the Djoker’s point construction and serve remain (relative) weak points that could certainly be exploited by Rafa, if no one else.


        February 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  2. I don’t think we’re actually in a disagreement Raven. Your line “However, having a Women’s Number One who can win a frigging major would be helpful.” somes it up nicely, and is what I meant when I said I want competition to come out of strength.

    I’m never going to be a guy who says, “I wish dominant players A & B didn’t exist so that we could have some uncertainty about who gets to the finals and wins.” I want competition, but I also want quality.

    Re: Djoker. Agree. No one should have looked as Nadal as a lock for hard court major titles before, and Djokovic’s rise only hammers that in further. I’ll still give Nadal the edge on grass until proven otherwise though, and obviously you’d be a fool to think Djokovic is Nadal’s equal on clay.

    Matt Johnson

    February 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm

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