Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Some Aussie Open Lessons

Djokovic's separation from the field is only growing:  Heading into the Australian Open it was clear that Djokovic was the heavy favorite.  He won 3 of the 4 grand slams in 2015, captured every big tournament at the end of the year, and routed Nadal in a tune up event to start off 2016.  Looking back on the event, it's possible we underestimated just how far ahead of the field Djokovic is right now.  Federer and Murray were simply outclassed by the world number one, and it's hard to imagine either beating him in a grand slam any time soon.  Nadal no longer seems like a threat to Djokovic either, and it's unlikely Wawrinka will continue to be much of a threat as he gets older.  While there are talented young players on the way up, it's hard to find anyone from the 18-25 crop who will be able to challenge Djokovic during the remainder of his prime (i.e. the next 2-3 years).  It's true things can change quickly in tennis, particularly for superstars that are reaching the end of their twenties.  But after watching Djokovic's dominance in Australia, it's hard not to see him racking up a handful of grand slam titles over next couple of years.

Serena is the best in the world by a mile- except when she isn't:  No one denies that Serena is the best female tennis player in the world, and by a good margin too.  But her performance against Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open finals was simply puzzling.  It was the second straight grand slam she suffered a shocking defeat, but more surprising than the loss itself was how poorly she played.  It appeared nerves were a big factor, but Serena missed countless easy shots that a player of her caliber has no business missing.  To Kerber's credit she played a smart match and made Serena hit lots of extra shots, but if Serena was playing anywhere close to her best level she wins it in straights.  As Federer can attest winning grand slams doesn't get any easy when you're 34 years old, and it will be interesting to see how Serena responds at the majors the rest of the year.

Nadal has to stop letting his opponents enter the zone:  Nadal has to be wondering what it is about his game that is letting lesser players enter the zone against him.  For the second straight grand slam he was knocked out early by a talented player who caught fire during the match.  Just as Fognini's incredible shot making ended Nadal's run at the US Open, he fell victim to the talented Verdasco in Australia.  Not to take anything away from Fognini or Verdasco, but when enough players keep finding the zone against Nadal, it's looking more like it's Nadal who is doing something to allow this to happen.  His forehand has clearly let him down over the last year or two, and his lack of confidence appears to be leading him to leave more forehands short in the box where opponents can tee off.  Nadal may not be in full on crisis mode (he is still top 5 in the world after all), but it's looking like he may be stuck on 14 grand slam titles for the foreseeable future.

The "next generation" on the men's side is nowhere near ready:  As referenced above, there are lots of talented tennis players in the men's game in the under 25 age group.  That being said, they are still completely irrelevant when it comes to challenging for major titles.  The emerging teens of Coric, Chung and Zverev didn't make it past round one, though Chung and Zverev did draw Djokovic and Murray, respectively.  Dominic Thiem lost a winnable match to Goffin in the third round, Tomic fell to Murray in straights in the fourth round, and a perhaps still sick Sock had a disappointing loss to Rosol in round two.  Dimitrov seems to be improved from his awful 2015, but failed to challenge Federer at all in sets three and four when it looked like he was going to make it a match.  The always hyped Nick Kyrgios sounded confident heading in, but fell to Berdych in a relatively routine third round match.  Some of these younger players will likely turn into superstars down the road (perhaps when Djokovic, Federer and Murray stop being dominant in 2027), but it's clear they all have a long ways to go.

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