Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Interesting First Week at Australian Open
The Australian Open has begun last week and survived through scorching heat without any notable upsets outside of the fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro's second-round loss to Roberto Bautista-Agut in the men's draw and the sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova's loss to Luksika Kumkhum first-round loss in the women's draw.
The heat was the main topic of headlines throughout the week. A few ball-kids struggled with the heat and had to receive emergency care, the bottoms of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's shoes began melting on the court, and a Twitter picture of a pan with two eggs cooking on it as if it was on the grill made the rounds of the social media.
Some players, such as Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick, argued that it was inhumane to play the matches at these levels of heat, while some other players like, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams, felt that it was part of the game. Recently retired players such as Andre Agassi and Roddick also felt that it was part of the game and that the players should prepare for the Australian Open expecting to deal with such conditions.
Agassi claimed that the heat was an opportunity to differentiate oneself from the competitors, and Roddick bluntly said, "Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it's hot outside. It's funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren't the guys keeling over. You're never going to see Roger (Federer) outwardly showing heat. You're not going to see Rafa (Nadal) doing it. You're not going to see Novak (Djokovic) anymore; you're not going to see him doing it."
During the first week, the weather continuously remained above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for four days, and then dropped around 25 degrees in the middle of the fifth day to finally fall below 90 degrees. Other rarities also took place in the first week. The French seemed to handle the heat very well, as eight Frenchmen won their first two rounds to reach the round of 16s. This was the most since the 1971 French Open for the "bleu-blanc-rouge" in a Slam tournament — note: as I write this, none made it to the quarterfinals. This tournament marked also the first time since 1973 Wimbledon that two lucky losers, Stephane Robert and Martin Klizan, played each other in the third round essentially guaranteeing that one lucky-loser would make it to the round of 16s.
Thumbs up to the Australian Open organizers who decided to give each player $1500 Australian dollars (approximately $1318) for helping with travel expenses. If there was any uncertainty on the fact that this is the players' favorite Slam tournament, this little-known fact should put it to rest. They also keep the entry to the qualifying rounds free, except for a $10 dollar fee on the last day of qualifying because it coincides with the Nickelodeon Juniors' Day.
In contrast, thumbs down ESPN program makers who actually made the viewers sit through a terrible Victoria Azarenka vs. Yvonne Meusburger first set on Friday night, while Tsonga and Gilles Simon, and Donald Young and Kei Nishikori were playing terrific first sets on their courts. Just to put things into perspective, Azarenka and Meusburger had as many unforced errors at 4-1 in the first set (8 each) as Simon and Tsonga did at 6-6 going into the tiebreaker.
It took that type of math for ESPN to realize that maybe it would be better to switch to Simon and Tsonga when they entered the tiebreaker. While it's true that the viewer can go online to ESPN3 and watch all the show courts, or DirecTV customers can see them on five different channels, the genii at ESPN should understand that most of America still watches TV to follow the Australian Open, and that the best possible match should be televised at a given time.