|Novak: “Sorry, Andy, you can’t touch this”|
The Australian Open 2011 tournament got interesting when the Spanish number 1, Rafa Nadal, lost in the quarters, but it got even more interesting when Swiss number 2, Roger Federer, lost in the semis to Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the number 3. Right away, everyone suspected we might be seeing a changing of the guards in men’s tennis. It was fascinating, because, with the exception of the 2005 and 2008 Aussie Opens, there has not been a men’s grandslam final that didn’t feature either Federer, Nadal or both.
It was time now for the number 3 and 4 players to crawl from the shadows of the number 1 and 2. Both Djokovic, 3, and Andy Murray of Great Britain, 4, made it to the final match as expected. Everybody anticipated a highly competitive final between the 3rd and 4th ranked players; after all, they’re fairly evenly matched: one rank apart, one week apart in age, and 4-3 win-loss record in favor of Djokovic.
However, tennis fans should know by now never to put too much faith in Murray, the Great British Hope to win a grandslam since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray is an underachiever. He chokes during grandslams, and no one really understands why. He’s a good player, but his game is all defense and great champions are not stuck on the defense end, waiting for their opponents to screw up. Great champions are aggressively offensive as they are defensive, and all Murray’s opponents are proof of this (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic).
Murray’s game is comparable to female players like Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic, both are good players who play rundown tennis that never gets them anywhere, especially in the case of Jankovic. Wozniacki is still number one in the female game, but without a major championship, essentially because she can’t get passed aggressive offensive players like Kim Clijsters, and in the case of the Aussie Open 2011, Li Na of China. I suspect if Francesca Schiavone wasn’t tired from her previous marathon match, she’d have defeated Wozniacki. This style of tennis simply has its limits, usually frustration short of a championship slam.
Murray’s people don’t seem to be letting him know that his one-dimensional tennis isn’t working, and that his sloppy body language doesn’t contribute to his success either. Murray has done poorly in his third grandslam final in a row, losing to players he may otherwise beat in a regular tournament (Federer and Djokovic). I suspect his record will remain the same if he doesn’t learn to attack and be more aggressive. The final against the Djoker was one-sided, with Murray continuing his abysmal record of not winning a set in a grandslam final. He lost 6-4 6-2 6-3–not exactly the highly competitive match everyone wanted to see.
John McEnroe predicted that Murray will have his breakthrough at the 2011 U.S Open, and while I’d love to see it finally happen for the Scots man, I won’t put my money on it, not until I see proof that he’s serious about improving the style of his game. Playing defense only doesn’t win championships.
On the other hand, I’d put money on the Djoker. Novak Djokovic has finally grown into his own as a tennis player, and I am happy to see it. People think he’s cocky and aggressive, but these qualities are necessary to become a great champion. Signs of Djokovic’s maturity as a player were evident at the 2010 US Open when he defeated Federer in the semis of the slam for the first time since 2008. He went on to lose to Nadal in the final, and while history repeated itself in the semis of the Aussie Open this year, the finals, expected to go against the Djoker, would not have the same outcome as 2010 US Open. Djokovic now has two grandslams–a daring feat in the era of Federer and Nadal, just ask Andy Roddick.
PS. Probably the most interesting news from the Aussie Open is Federer’s theft of towels worth $1,100. When confronted by Jim Courier about why he has taken them and what he does with them, he responded: “Give them away, because my friends all want them. I might take one, if that.” Federer admitted to taking roughly four towels per match.