Hello from Melbourne, where over the next two weeks I’ll be deep in the thick of things with Tennis Channel’s Australian Open production team – in the booth with our announcers during matches, in the studio for our pre-game show and overall, embedded in bringing you our broadcast of the event Roger Federer has dubbed, “The Happy Slam.”
Vexed as Judy Murray must have been by her son Andy’s loss yesterday, she’s also aware that the man who won that match, Mischa Zverev, ticked the boxes on all three of her fundamental teaching principles: make trouble, avoid trouble, get out of trouble. To say Zverev disrupted Murray is an understatement. Well aware that trying to win baseline rallies would end up in him being waterboarded, Zverev went on the attack. On his serve, old school serve-volley, right from the book authored by the likes of my Tennis Channel colleague Martina Navratilova. If not quite as technically sound as such serve-volley southpaw maestros as Martina, Rod Laver, John McEnroe or Tony Roche, Zverev’s athleticism, focus and, most of all, sheer commitment to the tactic carried him forward. At the receiving end, Zverev hung in rallies just long enough to maintain peaceful neutrality, deploying slice backhands, oddly shape forehands and, when he saw his opportunity, approach shots. It also helped that in the third set, Zverev made just one unforced error.
A big lesson for players, teachers, parents and fans was to see Zverev turn contemporary tennis on its head. The prevalent playing style of recent times – though tweaked in subtle ways -- has been a form of forceful defense, grinding baseline tennis best played by the likes of Murray, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori and others. Everything from technique and tactics to equipment has created this dominant mode. Fascinating to see what the Zverev brothers have done. Younger Alexander, with his powerful groundstrokes, plays the game of tomorrow. His older brother plays the game of yesterday. Why not try and bring them all together?
Matches of Intrigue
Dominic Thiem versus David Goffin
Is this one akin to the tale of the hare and the tortoise? Dominic Thiem is a shotmaker supreme, his one-handed backhand a stroke of shock and awe. David Goffin is a delicate craftsman, scarcely flashy but increasingly formidable. These two put on a dazzling tennis light show last year in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Count on them using just about every inch of the court. Thiem’s winners will look more impressive, but Goffin will find his own clever ways to win points. Savor the meal.
Rafael Nadal versus Gael Monfils
Usually by this time of the tournament, Gael Monfils has either been eliminated or made much noise with some sort of wacky match, a shot that makes headlines, a ridiculous physical feat – any combo of those three. But here in Melbourne, the Frenchman has mostly let his racquet do the talking, continuing to show the discipline that took him to the US Open semis, his first appearance in the ATP World Tour Finals and first year-end ranking inside the top ten (#7). Nadal is in familiar territory: redemptive mode, the 30-year-old Spaniard again in hunter mode.
Wondering and Wandering Around Melbourne
+ Are the stars lining up for a Golden Era Nadal-Federer final? Can Nadal win his first Slam past the age of 30? Can the 35-year-old Federer become the oldest man to win a singles major since his fellow four-time Aussie champ, Ken Rosewall (see photo above), took this title in 1972 at the age of 37?
+ Ditto for 36-year-old Venus and 35-year-old Serena, who last met here in the ’03 finals?
+ The authentic and the artificial: Was surreal to emerge from the power and passion of the Zverev-Murray match and head off for a dinner at the Crown Casino, Melbourne’s version of a Caesars Palace. The restaurants and shops – fair enough. But after one Las Vegas trip in my teens (including an incident with the authorities), could never understand the appeal of gambling. But there, on a warm Sunday evening in Melbourne, there were hundreds of people, plunking down coins and paper.
+ Fantastic title of a superb David Hockney exhibit that’s here in Melbourne: “Shut Up and Paint.”
Australian Open ’17: Flashback
(big thanks to key source -- “This Day in Tennis History” an app created by Randy Walker and Miki Singh)
January 23: Graf’s “Golden Slam” Begins (8)
Nineteen eighty-eight, a spanking new venue for the Australian Open, and fitting indeed that the women’s singles final marks a generational transition. In one corner, the veteran, 33-year-old Chris Evert, owner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including two Down Under. Across the net, a high-octane teen, 18-year-old Stephanie Graf, at that point winner of one Slam. Four games in, thanks to the stadium’s retractable roof, this became the first Grand Slam singles final to be played indoors. As always, playing like she was double-parked, Graf raced through the first set 6-1. But Evert fought hard in the second. Graf squeaked it out, 7-6. It was just the start of an amazing year for Graf – the infamous “Golden Slam,” Graf taking all four majors, as well as the Olympic gold medal.