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.”
Nearing the Close: The Old & The New
Down to the semis – and the chance of a remarkable set of finals. On the women’s side, a possible Venus-Serena final. For the men, perhaps a resurrection of Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal. The last time this scenario occurred – all four meeting in the finals of the same major – came at Wimbledon in 2008. Though each of these four future Hall of Famers is technically favored in their respective semi, each is also up against a sharp, dangerous opponent.
Yet given all the contenders – the Williams sisters, ascending American Coco Vandeweghe, the remarkable Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a resurgent Grigor Dimitrov, the forceful Stan Wawrinka and, of course, Federer and Nadal – it’s clear the tournament is headed towards a captivating finish.
Not Much Neutrality for Swiss-Swiss Matchup
The best assumption is that Stan Wawrinka has never heard of Gerry and the Pacemakers. Then again, probably a great many people under the age of 40 haven’t. The band recorded such notable songs from the ‘60s as “Ferry Across the Mersey” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” But it was this musical act’s fate to be from Liverpool, England, the same town as The Beatles.
Stan Wawrinka has long been an excellent tennis player. In the last three years, he has gotten even better, snapping up three Grand Slam titles – perhaps more pointedly, three more than his fellow Swiss, Roger Federer.
Tonight, alas (?), Wawrinka will be the one walking alone. He will head into Rod Laver Arena well aware that 99 percent of the crowd will want Federer to win. More than ever, Federer has become tennis’ one-man version of The Beatles – popular beyond belief, so many moves of his on and off the court chronicled and celebrated. My nickname for Federer: The Sun King – positive, bright, radiating good tidings towards all in a rather beatific, engaging manner. Federer’s artistry is more vivid and cherished than ever, revealed through both his post-Wimbledon absence and now in his presence. The man who dubbed the Australian the “Happy Slam” has both comported himself with joy and brought tons of pleasure to tennis fans this fortnight.
So once again the shadow of the Fed falls over Wawrinka, who by the way is the reigning US Open champ. But Wawrinka has also admitted that occupying so much of the same space as Federer has also aided his growth. Ironically, the one shot that has hindered Federer most – a ball struck high to his backhand – is something Wawrinka can often deal with quite proficiently.
Now the two meet for the 22nd time. Federer has won 18, including their only match here way back in 2011. There was a time when Wawrinka’ blink might have come even before they walked on the court. But tonight, it might not come for several hours. Or it may never come at all.
Australian Open ’17: Flashback
(big thanks to key source -- “This Day in Tennis History” an app created by Randy Walker and Miki Singh)
January 26: Stan the Man
Heading into the 2014 Australian Open, Stan Wawrinka had played 35 Grand Slam events and only reached one semi. But then, over the course of one sizzling fortnight, Wawrinka’s whole world changed. His one-handed backhand had long been forceful. But over these two weeks, everything else blossomed – the forehand, the serve and, most of all, the attitude. In the quarters, Wawrinka derailed Novak Djokovic’s four-peat quest, 9-7 in the fifth. In the finals, he took on the great Rafael Nadal – and played superbly, taking down the Spaniard in four sets. And even more, since then Wawrinka has earned two more Slams, beating Djokovic in the finals of both the ’15 Roland Garros and ’16 US Open. Hard work and big shots have made Stan the Man.