With the Australian Open about to enter its second week, we thought it was probably sensible to recap on what has been a pretty tumultuous first seven days of this year’s showpiece tournament.
This year’s event has now been without its fair share of controversy and with a number of shocks in the opening few rounds, it has been rather more unpredictable than one might have thought. So, the week in brief:
Man is conditioned for 40C + temperatures (apparently)
So says chief medical officer Dr Tim Wood. When questioned on whether he felt it was a good idea to keep play going in the face of temperatures regularly exceeding 40C, Wood intimated that he believed man used to spent eight hours a day chasing antelopes on the plains of Africa and that as a result, man is capable of playing sport in this heat.
You might think this a truly absurd line of reason, and if that’s the case, I can assure that you’re not alone in that. Wood was heavily criticised for refusing to suspend play; and given that Jamie Murray suffered from heatstroke, ball boys were fainting, and a certain Croatian feared for his life; it can be argued that this criticism was pretty much spot on.
As an aside, in light of how difficult the players have found it in Melbourne this year, how much more ridiculous does the original Qatar World Cup proposal sound? It was originally suggested that the FIFA World Cup would take place in the summer months in Qatar, but with the temperatures in Qatar regularly being as hot if not hotter than Melbourne, this was a frankly bizarre suggestion.
Rafa looking rather good this year too
After his frankly stupendous 2013, Rafael Nadal could be forgiven for resting on his laurels and not quite reaching the same level of performances this year.
However, it looks like no such forgiveness will be necessary, with Rafa sweeping all before him with only a modicum of fuss. Before the tournament began, it was remarked that Nadal had been placed in the slightly harder side of the draw, but it really doesn’t seem like the Spaniard is finding it very difficult at all.
Despite being placed in the tougher end of the draw, Rafa is yet to drop his serve in the tournament and has been the standout player of the men’s draw. After clinching the world number one spot off Novak Djokovic last year, it seems that it won’t be quite so easy for the Serb to do the same this time around.
Nevertheless Djokovic also looks in very good nick, and remains on course for a final meeting with Rafa. If the Serb wins this time around, this will be the fourth time in four years that he has won in Melbourne; but it is looking increasingly likely that in order to do so he will have to face Nadal.
However, if you were thinking that it’s a two horse race, it would probably be wise to think again. Andy Murray has returned following his back surgery, and the Scot looks as good as new, whilst former world number one Roger Federer seems to be having no trouble making his way through the rounds. Throw in Federer’s compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka who also looks more than capable of getting to the latter stages and we’ve got a highly competitive group of five or so players who have a great chance of getting to the final.
The Australian title eluded the world number one last year, and has done so again this year, with Ana Ivanovic knocking out the prolific big hitter in three sets on Sunday.
If reports are correct, Serena has been playing this year’s tournament in quite some discomfort with a back injury, and has been taking the strongest medication available on the tour in order to allay the pain. It is suggested the Williams’ pain was so acute during her third round match up against Daniela Hantuchova that the American seriously considered withdrawing. In fact, Serena has since admitted that she should have pulled out rather than playing Ivanovic.
That this was the state of play when Ivanovic vanquished Serena should not take anything away from the Serb; who still had to be at her imperious best in order to end the game as the winner. With Serena out of the way and Ivanovic in this sort of form, the former world number one may well now think she has a realistic chance of clinching this year’s title. Despite feeling sympathetic towards Williams, her untimely exit has certainly spiced things up in the women’s tournament.
Williams had been tipped as a player capable of winning all four Grand Slams in one year, but her loss to Ivanovic means that 2014 will not be that year; and at 32 it seems unlikely that she will accomplish that feat. Certainly the American considers it unlikely, suggesting that she had given up on that as a possibility “a long time ago”.
Forecast for next week
Although it was impossible not to feel for the players who had to play in the searing heat of last week, the point was made several times that it was the spectators who were at greater risk. After all, the players are conditioned to play in heat, and are generally fitter than the average non-athlete.
Thankfully for anyone turning up in Melbourne this week, the weather is likely to be far more palatable, with highs of 30C on Thursday and Friday looking like that will be the hottest it is all week. As the weather cools down, the tennis hots up with some intriguing matchups taking place over the next couple of days. As always, if you’re after coverage of Australia’s Grand Slam, head on over to Commentary Box Sports.