From a Tennis Hater's perspective, there was a lot to love about the 2013 Australian Open (yes, Haters, I relish getting into your heads with my syntax; might as well, since I can't do so with my game).
The final between Victoria Azarenka and Li Na was a graduate course in managing one's emotions on the court. Azarenka successfully defended her title despite a hostile Aussie crowd that cheered every time she missed a first serve. Li kept pace with Azzie, through early breaks of serve (she opened each set, and was broken each time by Azarenka), two tumbles to the court and a knock to her head during one of those falls that had her seeing stars. Both players had to contend with a ten-minute break for Australia Day fireworks.
Blogger Matt Zemeck at All I Need is a Picket Fence thought the women's championship was a "more impressive competition" than the men's final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray:
The way in which a person competes refers to immeasurables and intangibles, to realities that can’t easily be defined by numbers or raw assessments of technique....The men’s finalists, in short, were not subjected to the hardships that the women’s finalists had to walk through. Yet, when presented with a vast array of physical and psychological challenges, the point remains that the women showed so much more as competitors than the men did.
I agree. The first set of the Murray-Djoko match was exhilarating for its fierce speed and aggressive athleticism, but after that, it got boring and predictable. Murray eased off his shots. Djokovic went for his. Bada-bing, bada-boom -- game, set, match, Djokovic.
The Azarenka-Li final was like a good mystery novel. You stayed to see how it would end, how all the clues would come together.
One clue for me was the look on Li's face near the end of the second set:"Oh, shit, it's 2011 all over again." That's when she lost the AO championship to Kim Clijsters, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
She could as well have said, "Oh, shit, it's 2012 all over again." She lost to Clijsters then in the Australian Open's Round of 16, dropping the second and third sets after winning the first.
Do I sense a pattern here? Does Li Na? Did it mess with her head?
Yep, yep, and yep.
"I really feeling I wish I can win the title because this my favorite Grand Slam," she told reporters, after being asked why she cried after losing. ("It seemed like after the loss in 2011 you were a little more happy," said one. Clearly, this journalist doesn't play tennis.)
"The second time I was in the final, and twice I was lost the match. So, of course, I was feeling a little bit sad."
Meanwhile, the Bludger from Belarus successfully kept newspaper headlines like "It's Melbourne v Victoria" from getting under her skin and into her game.
"I knew what I had to do. I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me," said the Iron Maiden. "I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can."
Someday, maybe Li Na will experience that kind of happiness.
OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS OF TENNIS HATE: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saying Serena Williams and the other "girls" on the women's tour "are more unstable emotionally than us," leading to Williams' quarterfinal upset by up-and-comer Sloane Stephens, and no consistent Top Four, like the Djokovic-Federer-Murray-Nadal block.
"It's just about hormones and all this stuff. We don't have all these bad things. So we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That's it."
Tsonga is forgetting long runs at the top of the women's game by menstruators like Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, who took 31 of the 36 Grand Slams between 1968 and 1976...or Evert's and Martina Navratilova's classic rivalry through the 80s...or 22-time Grand Slam champ Steffi Graf's dominance during the 1990s. And then there are the Williams sisters, hoarding 21 of the 49 Grand Slam titles since 2000. Testosterone has been known to make men say, and do, stupid things.
Dr Ramon Spaaij, a research fellow at LaTrobe University, says sexism like Tsonga's colors people's view of most professional sports, and is what makes casual observers think the women's game is less predictable, more uneven and more competitive than men's tennis.
There is compelling evidence that the prevailing belief that men’s tennis is currently highly predictable and less competitive than women’s tennis is false when we look at the entire tours. Economist Liam Lenten calculated that overall, men’s tennis is actually (slightly) more competitive than women’s tennis in terms of the percentage of matches that go to the deciding set, the likelihood of upsets, and so forth.
I think the women's game is wobbly because of the serve. Excluding Serena, who's the best ever, certainly the best right now, the top players cannot hold serve. In their final, Azarenka and Li traded breaks, racking up seven of them in the first set alone. Women on the WTA tour don't have the big boomers that win them easy points, and they don't have crafty, reliable second serves to get them out of trouble. Why, I don't know. Tsonga would say their breasts get in the way.
AND FINALLY, I may be giving too much credit to Novak Djokovic's mental toughness and confidence for the way he's been able to recover from grueling matches and notch more victories. The New York Times had noticed this, too.
Last year, after a brutal semifinal victory over Murray, he bounced back with one day’s rest to beat Rafael Nadal in nearly six hours in the final.
This year, he played for 5 hours 2 minutes against Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round on Sunday night before winning, 12-10, in the fifth set. After his recovery work, he said, he went to bed at 5 a.m. on Monday and did not wake up until 2:30 p.m.
Djokovic's response to a question about how he does it got me curious.
“After five hours of match, you need to really put a lot of time into recovery, different kinds of recoveries," he told reporters. What KIND of recoveries?
“I understand that many people have many different views and opinions, and I respect that." WHAT views and opinons? "But I’m doing everything that is legal, that is correct, that is natural that I can, possibly can, in my power. And it’s working well.” Legal? Correct? Natural? What is Djokovic doing?
He's resting in an egg after matches, Haters. Djokovic's secret weapon, contrary to HEAD ads, isn't his racquet or his gluten-free diet. It's a $75,000 egg-shaped pressurized chamber. He's been using one since at least 2011, which is when the Wall Street Journal got wind of it:
The machine, which is made by a California-based company called CVAC Systems and hasn't been banned by any sports governing bodies, is one of only 20 in the world....The company claims that spending up to 20 minutes in the pod three times a week can boost athletic performance by improving circulation, boosting oxygen-rich red-blood cells, removing lactic acid and possibly even stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis and stem-cell production.
Rock star Axl Rose owns one. It's where he goes when he's not churning out an album every fifteen years. According to the WSJ, Djokovic stays at the estate of tennis pro and former ranked player Gordon Uehling III in Alpine, New Jersey when he's in New York for the US Open, and uses Uehling's egg. Does this mean I can call Uehling an egg donor?
Djokovic told the New York Times he didn't have a CVAC pod with him in Australia. Too bad; it would have made for a spectacular arrival at Melbourne Park: