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Rusedski reflects on Federer’s form and the Australian Open
I always enjoy the Australian Open because the matches never fail to be interesting and we never quite know the form of the players due to the few preparation tournaments. Going into the event there was a big question mark over how Rafael Nadal was feeling after having a virus in the first week of the year in Doha. Could he make history and hold all four slams at the same time? The only men to do so in the history of tennis are Don Budge and Rod Laver.
The best five men going into the tournament were all playing really well. Roger Federer was going in to the tournament having won Doha. New world number 4, Robin Soderling won Brisbane, while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both went undefeated at the Hopman Cup.
Murray’s form was majestic in the first week and he won his opening three matches easily. Djokovic was looking great as well and only dropped one set. He was very impressive as a result of the major improvement in his serve and forehand over the off season. Winning the Davis Cup for Serbia in December gave him that extra belief. Federer struggled against Gilles Simon in the 2nd round but won in five sets, to beat a man he had never beaten before. He then started to hit sensational form going into the 2nd week. He was actually my pick for the tournament. Nadal had an easy draw and easily got through the 1st week, but he wasn’t playing all that well. The virus had taken a lot out of him and he lost 2.5kg.
The 2nd week of a Grand Slam is when the real tournament begins. Murray would have his first test against world number 11 Jurgen Melzer and he played sensationally well, winning the match easily. Melzer’s coach Joachim Nystrom said he has never seen anybody play as well as Murray and that is a huge compliment from a former top 10 player himself. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all cruised through, but world number 4 Robin Soderling, having reached his first 4th round at the Australian Open lost to the Ukrainian Dolgopolov, who is an awkward player, but one he should really have beaten.
The quarter-final line up was Nadal v David Ferrer, Murray v Alexandr Dolgopolov, Djokovic v Tomas Berdych and Federer v Stanislas Wawrinka. The first major upset was about to happen. Nadal lost to Ferrer but injured himself in the 2nd game of the match yet refused to give up and lost in three straight sets. It was an unbelievably brave effort from Nadal and he made no excuses for his loss; what a true champion.
Federer won as well as Djokovic to set up a rematch of the 2010 US Open semi-final, which was a classic. Murray won convincingly in 4 sets to play Ferrer in the semi-finals. All of a sudden all the pressure was on Murray to make the finals. In the first semi-finals Djokovic played exceptionally well and destroyed Federer in 3 straight sets. Federer had no answers and Djokovic became everybody’s favourite for the tournament. There are now major question marks over whether Federer will ever win a slam again and at the moment Nadal and Djokovic look better than Federer. From what I can see they just boss him around and he struggles to beat them anymore in the big matches. This is the first time since 2003 that Federer does not hold at least one active major.
Murray looked extremely nervous in his semifinal with Ferrer. He lost the 1st set and saved set point in the 2nd set. Fortunately for Murray, his serve saved him at key moments and he went to win in 4 tight sets. It was not a convincing performance but credit has to be given to Ferrer for his battling abilities.
Going into the finals we all thought Murray would relax and that it would be a difficult match for both players. Djokovic started aggressively while Murray was visibly nervous and took 15 minutes to hold his 1st service game. The first set was of good quality but when it really mattered Djokovic stayed aggressive and won the first set 6-4. I thought the 1st set would be vital and it proved to be so. Murray got more and more nervous and didn’t know what to do. He needed to raise his game in the 2nd set if he had any chance in the match but the reverse happened and from there on in there was going to be only one champion and a deserved champion in Djokovic to win his second major and second Australian Open title.
Murray definitely needs to make some changes if he is ever going to win a major. It is now his third major final, which is impressive, but he is yet to win a set and has let nerves get the better of him in all three matches. You cannot win a major counter punching. You have to go for it and be aggressive. Murray is too good of a player not to win a major but needs a top coach to help him. I read in the UK press that Tony Roche who coached former world number one’s Ivan Lendl, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, and Roger Federer has submitted a request to coach Murray. He is a no nonsense coach and a great teacher of attacking tennis. This is the time to make a change if he wants to win a big one.
The women’s event was all about four women, once defending Champion Serena Williams had pulled out with an injury. Could Kim Clijsters continue her great form? She was my pick for the tournament. Could world number one Caroline Wozniacki finally win her first grand slam? How would defending finalist Justine Henin fare? Also would Li Na from China, the winner in Sydney, give China their first grand slam finalist and major winner?
Henin struggled throughout. She ended up losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round and announcing her retirement from tennis a few days later. She has not recovered from her elbow injury at Wimbledon last year and did not enjoy the pain, or the 1 hour of preparation on her elbow just to play a match. Henin will be missed tremendously for her beautiful one handed backhand and her all court game which is a rarity in woman’s tennis. She had a great career winning 7 grand slams and reaching world number 1.
The semifinals in the women’s event ended up being Li Na v Caroline Wozniacki, and Clijsters v Vera Zvonerava. Clijsters was efficient and won easily while Li Na saved a match point to make history and become the first Chinese player to ever make a slam final. Li Na is a bit of a rebel and we finally got to see her great personality after she beat Wozniacki. Sam Smith asked what kept her going in the third set and she responded, “I didn’t get much sleep because my husband was snoring all night but I thought of the prize money and that did the job!” With Li Na’s emergence, tennis will surely become even more popular globally. It already ranks as the third most popular sport in the world but with over a billion people in China, tennis will only get bigger and produce more tennis champions.
Unfortunately for Li Na she fell at the final hurdle to Kim Clijsters, the best player in the world at the moment, in three tough sets. We will definitely see a lot more of Li Na in the future at the final stages of majors. For Clijsters it is a dream start to the season and her first Australian Open title. Expect Kim to win at least another slam before the year is up.
What a sensational Australian Open!