Thoughts On The 2017 Australian Open
Some words on Federer's magnificence, Serena's record and concerns over the next generation
By Stephen Higgins | 31 January 2017
Time to climb off my soapbox and get on an aeroplane. Great couple of weeks at the #AusOpen , best slam in 30 years— kevin mitchell (@kevinmitchell50) January 30, 2017
Some praise from The Guardian's tennis correspondent I'm sure you'll agree. It is hard to remember the last time a major filled so many sports fans with joy and enthusiasm for the game, particularly in light of the ominous situation in Serena's homeland.
Closer, a very good R&B song by Ne-Yo, topped the charts the last time Roger, Rafa, Serena and Venus made up the final four in a grand slam. That was of course Wimbledon 2008. While the 2017 men's final did not hit the high notes of 'the greatest match of all time', it did more than enough to captivate the world's attention.
First, a word for Roger Federer. Can you believe that Sunday was the first time that the Swiss outfoxed the Spaniard at a grand slam in almost a decade? The Wimbledon 2007 final was the last time that Federer got the better of Nadal, a lifetime ago in sporting terms and Federer's conscience I'm sure.
His 18th major came after a five year wait and after a journey through a draw laced with potential landmines. Nobody can question a man who beat Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal to win a title.
The quicker courts in Melbourne were a boon to the Swiss and allowed him to keep the rallies as short as possible. Whilst we all expected Nadal to find his usual joy by peppering Federer's one-handed backhand with looped forehands, we did not expect the 35-year-old to retaliate with so many clean drives, for so long.
Federer's backhand and serve survived one the greatest challenges when they were needed most. As for the forehand, movement and touch: well they were as magical as ever.
The spectre of Steffi Graf no longer blocks the horizon of Serena Williams, who overtook the German on 23 major singles titles. The final was another interesting if uncompetitive bout with elder sister Venus. More important than the record though, was how well the 35-year-old played in Melbourne.
Williams's destruction of Jo Konta in the quarter-finals was ruthless and as good a performance as I can remember from her in some time. The (once again) world no.1 looks formidable and hungry in 2017. It's no exaggeration to say that if she plays in this kind of form at the remaining majors, the calendar slam is again a possibility.
Rafael Nadal should be delighted with his Australian Open campaign. Although he looked distraught after the final loss, he must surely take the positives out of an unlikely run given his form and fitness problems of late.
Like Federer, Nadal has been out of the game for a number of months and actually looks revitalised as a result. If he comes through the American swing unscathed, we could be in for a typically strong run from the Majorcan on European clay.
It was an inspiring performance from Venus Williams. The 36-year-old made her first grand slam final since Wimbledon 2009 on Saturday. The American did receive a favourable draw as none of her opponents before the final had made it to a major semi-final before.
Still, she's an inspiration to many around the world and may have another deep run in her on the grass in London.
I wouldn't say there is any need to have concerns over Andy Murray. The world no.1 surprisingly lost to Mischa Zverev's 80s style tennis in the fourth round but it's unlikely to be a trend. The Scot has put in too much work and played too well in the past six months to just collapse in form for no reason.
If the 29-year-old loses early in Miami, where he is twice a champion, then we can talk about a rut.
Angelique Kerber I believe suffered from the same issues Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska faced in Melbourne: quicker courts. When your game is built on a balance tilted towards movement rather than power, a fast court can always catch you out. While each player has their own reasons for losing, they were all at a disadvantage to power hitters who can end points quickly.
It's likely to be a blip for the German but Halep and Radwanska continue to struggle in the grand slams. The Romanian hasn't made a major semi-final since the 2015 US Open while the Pole has only made the last four three times in the past three years.
What will become of Novak Djokovic's season? The world no.2 was bounced out of the tournament by Denis Istomin, who admittedly played the match of his life. Concentration is fundamental to the Serbian's game. On form, Djokovic consistently puts the ball in awkward spots for his opponents and outwits them. Lately however, his mind seems to be elsewhere. Boris Becker, who split from Djokovic's camp over the winter, said he 'did not recognise' the 12-time major winner in Melbourne.
Djokovic is a five-time champion on the slower courts of Indian Wells. If he exits that Masters 1000 event early, expect the questions and doubts to grow louder.
I'm a little concerned by Dominic Thiem's prospects for 2017. The Austrian propelled himself into the top 10 last year after a fine season capped off by a semi-final run at Roland Garros. That progress came in spite or because of (depending on your prejudice) participation in 27 ATP events over the year. The 22-year-old has no shortage of talent but would he prosper with a reduced schedule?
It was lovely to see Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's surprising run to the last four. The 34-year-old has overcome some harrowing experiences to still be able to even play at this level. Also a quarter-finalist in this year's doubles event, many congratulations to the 1998 Australian Open doubles champion.
Finally, let's talk about Sascha Zverev. The kid's a superstar. Seeded 24th going in to the tournament, the German comfortably beat another highly rated young player, Frances Tiafoe, in straight sets before that marathon match with Nadal in the third round. Ranked 22 in the world this week, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets into the top 10 by the end of 2017. In the past year he has beaten Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Roger Federer and took Nadal to five sets. All this before the age of 20!