Lessons From the Australian Open

Matthew Heineman


Professional tennis is enjoying a resur­gence in popularity. Players are elevating their games and rivalries reminiscent of Borg-McEnroe and Evert-Navratilova are re-energizing fans all over the world. This was evident at last week’s Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the 2012 season. Both the men and women in this tourna­ment exhibited power, strength, speed, ath­leticism and durability, making it an excit­ing debut for the 2012 season. Let’s look at some notable storylines from the 2012 Australian Open.

The Dominance of Novak Djokovic: Novak Djokovic completed 2011 as the number one ranked men’s player in the world. After years of trying, he finally over­took both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by winning last year’s Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. His perfor­mance in Australia last week solidified his position as the top player on the men’s ten­nis circuit. Djokovic appears to be in excel­lent physical condition, perhaps the best of his career to date. His stamina and mental toughness, for which he has been criticized in previous years, is vastly improved. This was best seen in the final match against Rafael Nadal, a five set thriller in which Djokovic outlasted Nadal eventually winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5. The match lasted a record 5 hours, 53 minutes, challenging the mental and physical abilities of both players. Dur­ing the match, both men displayed periods of excellence and, not to detract from Nadal’s prowess, Djokovic simply outlasted him. Al­though Rafa is well-known for his ability to physically wear down an opponent, Djokovic beat him at his own game. By winning his fifth major title and third in a row, it is safe to say that Novak Djokovic has proven himself to be a dominant force in the tennis world.

Murray-Lendl Pairing is Working: Af­ter watching his play in the open, it’s clear that Andy Murray has elevated his game to that of an elite player. It seems that the coaching move to tennis great Ivan Lendl has done wonders for his game. Known for a bad temper and normally cautious game­plan, Murray appeared different during this tournament. He was far more aggressive with his shot selection and his personality seemed cool, calm and collected. With Lendl’s help he has made the appropriate changes to his game, such as standing closer to the base­line and using his forehand much more ag­gressively. Nowhere was this more evident than during his epic semifinal match against Djokovic. It was another tough match for Murray that saw him lose to the eventual champion in five sets (3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 5-7). However, in a match in which no­body expected Murray to win, he really gave Djokovic a tough time and played extremely well. He still has to win a Grand Slam in or­der to be regarded as a tennis great and likely will have to go through one of tennis’s “Big Three” (Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer) to do so, but he made major strides in the Aus­tralian Open and should gain a confidence boost moving forward into the other major tournaments of the year.

The Changing of the Guard in Women’s Tennis: On the women’s side, things were a lit­tle more open. It’s evident that a new, younger generation of women is challenging the domi­nance of the older, more established players. Following the blowout victory of Victoria Azarenka over Maria Sharapova in the final (6-3, 6-0), women’s tennis has now had a dif­ferent grand slam champion five times in a row. There has been an injection of youth with the emergence of younger players such as Aza­renka, Caroline Wozniaki, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, and Agnieszka Radwanska. Not for many years has women’s tennis had so many young, athletic players hungry for victory. One thing missing from this Australian Open was the usual dominant play of the Williams sis­ters. Obviously, Venus didn’t play in the tour­nament and is still recovering from her battle with Sjorgen’s Syndrome (a rare autoimmune disease) and her sister Serena, also coming back from injury, played poorly, which culminated in a fourth round exit. Both are looking to get healthy and quickly return to playing the domi­nant tennis to which they are accustomed. The Williams sisters, combined with a healthy and revitalized Maria Sharapova and the always-consistent Kim Clijsters, will look to regain their place at the top of the tennis world. The upcoming season for women’s tennis looks to be heading in a promising direction.

Contact Matthew Heineman at [email protected]