This year’s Australian Open delivered expected results and surprises that have made this year a spectator’s dream. The top seeds in the men’s and women’s events repeated as champions. Martina Hingis, who has retired twice from the game added to her brood of titles winning the Mixed Crown with Leander Paes. Her countryman however showed that not only is he human, but will have all of us asking will Federer get “Betterer” and win another slam? The same question can be asked of Rafa; he rebounded from a subpar, injury-laden final in ’14 to win the French and then bow out for the rest of the year. Does he have it in him to beat the top guys to win another major? This pre-Olympic year will have many tennis stories which I am very excited about. Here are the top 5 thoughts that I have coming out of this slam and for the rest of the year.
The Future of American Women’s Tennis is Bright: Spare a thought for Madison Keys! This 19 year old follows others such as Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens to have a breakthrough at this major. She dismantled a fitter, power player in Petra Kvitova (seeded 4th), thwarted the emotional darkhorse Venus Williams in 3 sets and gave her little sister all she could handle in her semifinal. Coached by Lindsay Davenport, Madison displayed great poise, power and touch as she played her way through the draw. If she continues to stay healthy and gain experience, like playing Fed Cup in Argentina in a few days, I expect her to have a similar if not better year than Eugenie Bouchard had in 2014. Maddy has an awesome attitude and with Lindsay in her corner I expect her to continue to build on this slam and gain more consistency in the other events leading up to the French. I also believe that this run of Madison’s is going to inspire the other ladies — McHale, Stephens, Riske, Lepchenko, Vandeweghe and Hampton (she’s coming back!) to carry on the strong tradition of American dominance at the majors in the women’s field.
Novak Djokovic will win multiple slams this year: Aside from some nerves in this year’s semifinal against his killer from 2014, he looked like the man to beat from the very start of the tournament. His footwork, serve, power and defense were all on display at this year’s event. This form was a far cry from Wimbledon where despite the win, he looked shaky. This was likely a result of the pressure to win, his impending fatherhood and facing a familiar foe in an in-form Roger Federer. I still very much love the man Roger Federer is, the fighter that Rafa is, however it has taken me a long time to warm up to Novak. I respect him as a player but I’m finding it hard to move past the tennis player and to get a feel for him as a person. He will win more slams this year and I hope his speeches continue to give us insight to who he is as a husband, father and humanitarian. Fatherhood and his charitable endeavors are starting to allow me to warm up this once precocious player. I still remember him taunting Andy Roddick, however I want to remember him for being an even greater champion and gentleman.
Roger will still be a factor at the Majors: Roger Federer bowed out to a hot Andres Seppi at the Open this year and the press were on the hunt for excuses. Seppi played out of his mind against Federer and earned the win. Yes, he is getting older. Yes, I wrote this post which suggested that I am content with being alive during Roger’s era. I believe the universe will open up and allow Roger to taste victory at least one more time. His win in Brisbane showed me that he can still play awesome tennis. The reality is he will have to contend with younger guys who have the endurance and gall to lure him into brutally long rallies. The larger racket and commitment to aggressive play have already made a difference with final appearances in the year end champs and the Wimbledon final last year. Roger can still hold his own at the French and I love his chances at Wimbledon. If he gets a favorable draw with a bit of luck, he should be able to squeeze out a major before calling it quits, however it will not be easy. Andy Murray’s final run has restored the Big Four in the rankings – Novak, Roger, Rafa then Andy. It will be tough to play two of these guys to win any major. He will need help and I think if one of the favorites falter early, plus at least two of the big four, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger ended up winning another French, Wimbledon or US Open title.
No American Men will make the Final of a Grand Slam this year: The USTA has to look to its programs to find the next great American man to become a force in tennis. Not since Andy Roddick have we seen a player from the US reach the second week of a major with a real chance to win the title. I shed a tear when he won the US Open in 2003 and shed another when he lost the 2009 Wimbledon Final, arguably his best and final chance at a major. John Isner is almost 30 and despite improved fitness and a killer serve, he has faultered at the majors and underwhelmed on hardcourts. It will be interesting to see how Mardy Fish looks when we returns to Indian Wells this year. He would be my emotional favorite to do well this year. I like Ryan Harrison’s game and feel like if he could get a decent draw he could mature into the next great player. Full disclosure, I am a Canadian living in the US. I am so happy with how Milos Roanic has steadily improved over the years and he may very well reach his first slam final this year (Wimbledon is my prediction). However, unless he defects to the US, I do not see a US men’s finalist making it through to the finals of any slam this year.
If Serena is motivated and healthy, she will tie Steffi Graf before the 2016 Olympics: Serena arrived at the Open having not peaked at the events prior to win her 6th Australian Open title and 19th major overall. Previously, she has used Sydney or Brisbane to warmup prior to Oz and she has had bad luck with injuries in 2012 (ankle turn in Brisbane), 2013 (ankle turn in 1R Aus Open) and 2014 (back in practice). In 2011, she was out with the pulmonary embolism thus she could not defend her title from 2010 where she beat a familiar foe in Justine Henin. The last time Serena spoke boldly about winning a title that had eluded her, we saw her come back from her defeat at Roland Garros in 2012 to hold the cup in 2013. It cannot be easy at 32 to find the motivation to train, diet, and practice, but a chance at history and to be the greatest ever is well within her grasp. You could see #19 weigh on Serena as she battled young challengers, people who have beaten her before and her own illness to get the title. If her wrist cramped during the match, I bet Serena would have played lefty and still would have beaten Sharapova. Serena won many slams before Patrick Mouratoglou joined her team, but he has found a way to help her play her best tennis in her 30s. One thing is true about the G.O.A.T. debate: Serena has to equal Steffi or best her to become the greatest ever. Getting into the 20s will not be enough. Even if Serena does not win another major, she has my respect and appreciation for all that she has added to the game of tennis. If she can call up that serve that was absent at the slams in 2014 I expect Serena to catch Steffi before the next Olympics. The French-Wimbledon double will be tough–she was the last woman to pull it off in 2002 and before her Capriati did it in 2001. Rafa has done it twice in 2008 and 2010. I expect Serena to defend the US Open where she has had a great run since she returned in 2011, however it is up to her if she can pull off the French and Wimbledon in the same year. She has time to catch Steffi and even exceed her before Rio. I look forward to watching how this year progresses for Ms Williams, but I definitely see at least two Grand Slam wins in 2015.