But anyone else feel this is honestly the worst Grand Slam tournament in years?
Between the lack of quality matches, Serena's injury leading to her loss, the whole Azarenka controversy, the fact that the Aussie crowd quite clearly hate her (Has there ever been such a disliked champion by the home crowd), the winner having probably the easiest slam run ever, and now this final where the more talented ballstriker and crowd favourite twists her ankle and smacks her head off the court (not that she needs her head to be messed around more) after being a set up... Its really been awful both in quality terms and for the image of the game.
Yes I for one am truly sick of naysayers and the Opening Post herein is sure full of typical negativity. I actually think there is not much basis to determine that this tournament was a flop. So let’s examine each issue raised in the OP one by one:
1. Lack of Quality Matches:
I suppose the definition of a high quality match is subjective. For me I just wish to be entertained; after all isn’t that the universal motive for watching any sporting event? I especially enjoy an ebb and flow of a match wherein one player might have the upper hand but then lose the momentum to her opponent. In my view a player who loses a set after leading say 5-0 or 5-1 has not necessarily chocked, but instead I see that her opponent had resolved not to quit, but with grit and determination came back to prevail. In other words this is a glass half full/half empty situation.
Now given that there are 127 matches in a slam tournament, it stands to reason there would be lots of uninteresting matches especially when a high seed soundly trashes a marginal player. So ergo we saw Maria Sharapova race to the semi finals with only nine games lost; and Serena Williams got to the quarter finals losing only eight games. Mind you the No 1 seed and eventual champion did have a three set scare in round three to lightly regarded Jaime Hampton. However despite that, I believe this tournament had its fair share of high quality matches as I define them; at least two matches per day in the first week which is the maximum matches I usually watch in any case. I just like to cite four examples which is by no means an exhaustive list:
(a) Ekaterina Makarova 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Marion Bartoli is the best example of my definition. Despite Ekaterina undoubtedly having control of the match throughout the play, Marion fought to the bitter end to make this an exceptional match. After trailing 6-7 and 2-3, Ekaterina rolled up a nine game win streak to take a commanding 5-0 lead in the deciding set. But Marion did not slink away. She held to avoid a bagel and then broke Ekaterina without facing a Match Point. Marion held serve again to win her third game in the set. However, Marion had to ward off a break/match point in this game leading me to conclude that it would be the end of the road for Marion. I thought surely Ekaterina serving for the match for a second time would hold serve and put Marion out of her misery. But no! Marion broke again to bring the set score back on serve. Alas Marion could not hold her serve in the next game and thus lost the match. A major factor in the loss of this game was the fact Marion served 2 DFs; her Achilles Heel throughout this match. As for anyone who saw this match and did not find it exciting or compelling; well it begs the question why in hell do you watch women’s tennis anyway?
(b)For sheer drama involving a personal test of nerves and jitters one cannot find a better example than Jie Zheng’s 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 triumph over Sam Stosur. We are all aware of Sam’s lack of confidence in playing before her home country crowds. Naturally this makes every match she plays in Australia suspenseful no matter the caliber of her opponent and this match exactly followed the narrative. The tenth game of the first set seemed truly ominous. Jie was serving for the set while Sam was trying to break to tie the set. On a break point Sam received a high lob that she could return for an easy put away winner but she netted the ball instead. (BTW this type of an UE was not unprecedented by a top player in slam history- I recall the 1989 USO title game where Martina Navratilova flubbed a similar lob on a break point where had she been successful she would have been serving for the championship. Having missed the smash Martina succumbed to Steffi)
Benefitting from this UE Jie eventually won the set. But not collapsing Sam went on to win the second set 6-1 and had a 5-2 lead in the deciding set. I had visions of a Maria Kirilenko reprise of the ’11 USO wherein Sam overcame the loss of a dramatic and highly contested second set, but calmly went on to win the third set and match. Then she went on to win the title; would lightning strike twice? But no! The Australian jinx struck Sam down as Jie won the last five games to take the match. I believe this match is the new standard for bathos in a women’s tennis match.
(c)Caro’s first round 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Sabine Lisicki had lots of pre match hype and to my mind lived up to it. It certainly provoked lots of reaction on this forum; in excess of 250 postings as I recollect. There is no denying there is a polar opposite in playing style of these two players, which made the match very appealing. For my own personal angst these two players are my favorite two players on tour. (I like going against the grain of this board as arguably these are the two most reviled players by the members herein, but no matter). What struck me was how close this match actually turned out to be. In the ninth game of the second set where Caro was serving for the set and Sabine was trying to break to get back on serve; Sabine on a break point missed a grounder extremely close which I thought merited a review but Sabine did not challenge. Had she made that break point and hence win the game, and considering she actually won the next three games then it might have been Sabine who would have faced Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round instead.
(d)Speaking of Kuznetsova her 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Caro in the fourth round certainly ranks as a most compelling exciting match. Both players had a very disappointing 2012 season and that they both reached the fourth round herein augers well for a much better 2013 season for both of them. After exchanging 6-2 sets these players engaged in a nail biter of a third set. Surely even the vast majority of Caro haters herein would have to concede that quality of tennis in this set was as superior as one could expect.
I outlined in detail those four matches simply to dispel the assertion that there was a dearth of high quality matches in this tournament and I reiterate this is not an exhaustive list as there are many more examples I could cite.
(2) Serena’s injury leading to her loss.
Serena did not get injured in the sense she was disabled to an extent that she could not continue to compete. Instead she suffered back spasms that no doubt caused her excruciating pain. However she was given pain killers that allowed her to continue. It is axiomatic that on occasion professional athletes in sports, not just tennis, must play hurt on occasion; it is an occupational hazard.
I would quarrel vociferously that the “injury” was not the cause of Serena’s loss. She lost simply because she was not playing as well as she was capable of and her opponent Sloane was playing to the optimum of her capabilities. Even before the “injury” an impartial viewer could easily conclude it was a close contest with the result still in doubt. Yes Serena was up a set but the second set was clearly up for grabs. And it wasn’t like Serena won that first set in a dominating manner. She won the set by holding serve five times none of which I believe were won by love. Sloan held her serve for three games each one of them at love. She lost her fourth service game by quickly going down 0-40 but got two break points back before succumbing to an UE. So what I’m saying is that the competitiveness of the first set suggested that Serena was not necessarily the inevitable winner unlike her previous four NID victories.
(3) The Azarenka controversy
In my view this incident is a tempest in a teapot; fueled by some intemperate American tennis commentators. Seems like what is truly overlooked was the fact that the officials of the match granted Vika the MTO and did not find anything was amiss. And I noticed from all the postings I’ve read herein on this topic no one has suggested that the tennis officials had acted incorrectly. That being the case I can’t see for the life of me how this incident has denigrated the tournament. If nothing else this incident will make this tournament forever memorable.
(4) Aussie crowd clearly hated her (i.e. Azarenka)
Even if that is factually 100% true so what? Professional Wrestling (in America) is notorious for scheduling so called villains contesting against so called heroes. Sometimes the villains are allowed to win to the utter dismay of the audience/fans. Why? Obviously a hated participant prevailing drives up the interest level. Thus if Vika is not universally lauded it makes the tournament result that much more interesting and does not denigrate the tournament.
(5) Winner having probably easiest slam run ever
Oh really? I bet you didn’t think so when the draw was first posted. In fact although Vika was the defending champion no one was seriously picking her to win. The conventional wisdom was that even should she win her quarter she could not beat Serena and she surely could not beat Maria as well in the finals. Even her quarter had some potential tests Kuznetsova and Caro came to my mind. True Errani would have been no problem and predictably she did not get to the QF as she could not even win her 1st round match. As pointed out unlike her declared main rivals who had easy cruises to the QF and SF Vika had a tough test in the third round. That Vika did not meet Serena or Maria as the adage goes was not her fault but it should be noted she beat the players who had eliminated the consensus pre tournament finalists favorites.
6. Vika winning because Li was injured
Same rational concerning Serena’s loss applies on this point as well.
My bottom line is that this tournament surely was not the worst ever and the case for saying otherwise surely is not persuasive.