Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Another Upside Down Down Under Championship

By Tom Kosinski

On Sunday, there were two major jokes. Okay, one joke, and one Djokovic. The joke was the National Football League's Pro Bowl. I'm not even sure why they have it anymore. It's not really an all-star game, as no one really tries. Watching it yesterday, I had to laugh. No player really gives it much effort, as no one wants to get hurt, and it has zero meaning. I actually think the NFL has instituted a "no tackle rule," along with the "laugh when you get intercepted" rule. If that isn't the case, then I can't explain why no one really tackled anyone, and why every quarterback on the AFC smiled when they got picked off as the NFC was running up 42 unanswered points in the first half.

Which is why tennis is my sport; every day is an all-star game. Sunday was no exception, as Novak Djokovic man-handled Andy Murray in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic took home his second Australian Open title, and his second major, as well. The media was hoping for another Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal final, but that was not to be this year, with Federer falling to Djokovic in the semis and Nadal leaving in the quarters at the hands of fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.

Andy Murray surprised everyone with his sweep into the semis and competitive but seemingly inevitable victory over Ferrer that put him in the final. The story, as most of the media wanted, was to be Nadal/Federer, with the prediction or at least the hope that if either was victorious, there was still a chance for tennis to see its first men's Grand Slam winner since Rod Laver in 1969.

Instead, the story changed to the drought of British champions going back 75 years, to the victories of Fred Perry as the last major tournaments won in singles by a man sporting the Union Jack. Not unlike the curse of the Bambino and the Boston Red Sox, Andy Murray looked to be the first to win one of the four majors and like the Red Sox finally break the losing streak for the Brits after 75 years. Djokovic was clearly in top form. His straight set drubbing of Federer in the semis all but foretold his championship.

Murray has always been one of the most inconsistent-consistent top five men's players. With speed to match some of the quickest on tour, and a game as big as Djokovic and even Andy Roddick, he has continued to hover just below the top three and has always been a contender on the hard and fast surfaces. Murray returned to the Australian Open championship this year, and is the only Brit in over 70 years to perform a similar feat. Murray has been to the river three times now, bowing in each of his three major final appearances.

Djokovic now stands as the lone man capable in 2011 of collecting tennis' grand slam — victories at the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open Championships. It seems unlikely, as clay is not known to be his best surface. Djokovic has been to at least the semifinals in all four majors, to include back-to-back appearances in the French semis, so a Grand Slam is not out of the question.

Meanwhile, Kim Clijsters captured her fourth overall major title, and her second consecutive major title relatively unnoticed. Since returning to the tour as a mother in 2009, Kim has managed to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles and now has added the Aussie Open to her trophy shelf. Looking more fit than ever, looking more relaxed yet focused then this writer has ever seen, she walked through the women's draw with a couple of competitive matches, but was never really tested until the final against Chinese top player Na Li. Na Li and Clijsters had just faced off in the tournament immediately preceding the Aussie, with Li taking it in two tough sets. Of note is that this is the first appearance in a major final for any Chinese tennis player.

For this writer, it was a good start to what appears to be a good season. Yes, Serena Williams was not there, and again the U.S. men did not make a great showing. Seeing Murray start the season well is encouraging, and barring injury, it looks like there will be a compelling story or two to write come the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in June.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn't make a comment on the fashion introduced on the courts at the 2011 Aussie Open. Often known as the launching point for each major brand's signature styles for the tennis year, this one, well, is a dud. The best I could describe it, on both the women's and men's sides is, well, colorfully ugly. The most prevalent color can only be termed putrid bright green, and it was featured not only in trim on most of the players outfits, but also in full on some, including the men, leaving some to look like a big, tennis-playing M&M.

Of course, Venus Williams was not exception, once again pushing the envelope in what she called the "illusion dress," a light blue, striped dress that barely covered both her front and back, paired with flesh color undergarments to make it seem as if she really wasn't wearing anything. While I have often admired the women's fashion introduced in the sport, and also enjoyed greatly the Fila provided wear on Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, and Guillermo Vilas in the 1970s, I believe Venus and others have pushed the boundaries of fashion too far, and have lost sight of what tennis and sports fashion is supposed to be.

With that, it's now on to the U.S. winter tour, heading toward the next significant championship, the Sony Ericsson Championships in Miami in March. Hopefully by then, the only green will be that of the grass in the park surrounding the tennis stadium.

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