The NFL playoff season is in the homestretch and in the middle of it is the first tennis Grand Slam of the year; the Australian Open. It is flying by faster than I thought. Going into the slam down under, it is easy to pick Serena Williams, who entered ranked second, to win it all on the women’s side. The men look off the tracks so far with the defending and six-time champion Novak Djokovic being eliminated. A few days later Andy Murray was kicked off the island. Djokovic and Murray out before the quarters in Melbourne. This year’s major also has a dash of misinterpreted ignorance.
In the second-round match, Venus Williams won over Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele; ESPN commentator Doug Adler was discussing her style of play and uttered what came across to many as a controversial description. Adler, who later on apologized for any confusion, actually said his statement was she was bringing on “the guerilla effect,” but some listeners complained, believing his comment had the politically incorrect connotation that Williams has “the gorilla effect.” It can be misunderstood however this is the classy Venus Williams. Uncalled for. With that out the way, let me share my observations of the tournament so far beginning with the women. Speaking of Venus.
Venus Ebony Starr Williams still runs on a full tank. The last time she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open was 2003 — the same year Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam; the same year Australian wild card Destanee Aiava turned three years old. Williams, at 36, is the oldest woman to reach the final four here in the Open Era. The return for Venus to the Australian Open semis will be in the form of an all-American showdown against Coco Vandeweghe.
There is more. No. 2-seeded Serena Williams will play unseeded Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, making it three U.S. women playing in the semifinals and two are siblings.
The men may not be as appealing for the viewers in United States however there are names that we cannot take for granted remaining in the bracket. At 35 years, 174 days, Roger Federer is the oldest man to reach the Aussie Open final four since Arthur Ashe in 1978. Federer moves on to his 41st career Grand Slam semifinal, 10 more than anyone else in the Open Era, and his 13th in 14 years down under.
Who is his opponent? Fellow swiss Stan Wawrinka.
Federer holds a commanding 18-3 lead in their career head-to-head series, including a straight-sets demolition at the 2015 US Open, their most recent meeting in a Grand Slam. Earlier that same year, Wawrinka defeated Federer in the French Open quarterfinals.
Wawrinka won the Australian Open in 2014.
One more male. Rafeal Nadal. He made his way back in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 2015, when Novak Djokovic insolently dismissed him from the French Open, the tournament Nadal once dominated.
Nadal is just three Grand Slam titles behind Federer’s record of 17, and he is two ahead of Djokovic. Nadal has already won the French Open nine times. Another win in Paris is not just possible; by late May, it might seem likely.
The first tennis major of the year has turned into a Grand Slam of upsets.
Djokovic, the world No. 2, departed in five sets amid a flurry of errors, beaten by an inspired Denis Istomin in the second round. The shockwaves from that drowned out the howls of anguish over the second-round losses of Nick Kyrgios and Marin Cilic, seeded No. 14 and No. 7 respectively. However even Djokovic’s loss was forgotten when Mischa Zverev upended top seed Andy Murray in the fourth round.
The lesson we have learned from the pandemonium of the first four rounds is that even top players have their off days while those who are not household names are still gifted athletes furthermore creating a name. But the old girls and guys have more work to do before anything planned takes effect.