The Big Takeaway From Australia: Men’s and Women’s Tennis Are in Very Different Places

Written by on February 3, 2020

MELBOURNE, Australia — Males’s and ladies’s tennis are in drastically completely different phases. The boys have a triopoly that would rapidly remodel right into a monopoly if Novak Djokovic stays contemporary and targeted. The ladies have one thing nearer to mob rule with new winners rising at a madcap clip.

Within the final 12 Grand Slam tournaments, the ladies have had eight first-time main singles champions. Becoming a member of that checklist on Saturday at the Australian Open was Sofia Kenin, an assured American seeded simply 14th.

Within the final 21 Grand Slam tournaments, the boys haven’t had any first-time main singles champions.

Nonetheless, the winners in Melbourne did share some widespread floor.

Djokovic and Kenin each needed to come again to win of their finals, staring down break factors and enjoying boldly when it mattered most.

Each have been visualizing success since their rackets have been almost as tall as they have been.

Kenin was a wide-eyed 6-year-old in 2005 when a movie crew recorded the private tour she was given of the Miami Open by Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters. A 12 months later, she was giving interviews and speaking about changing into No. 1 (why she was giving interviews at age 7 is one other query).

Djokovic by no means obtained that type of early publicity, however when he was 7, he original a makeshift Wimbledon trophy and staged a mock victory ceremony regardless that he got here from a household of Alpine skiers, not tennis gamers, in Serbia.

“Visualizing that victory was a really highly effective supply of power that was paving the best way for me to truly obtain that sooner or later,” Djokovic said in December. “It’s 100 p.c doable, however you need to really feel it within the coronary heart, not simply in your thoughts.”

Maybe the guts — and an incredible quantity of apply and conditioning — helps clarify why males of their 30s proceed to dominate. Youthful stars like Dominic Thiem need to know of their heads by now that they’ve the firepower and expertise to rival the Large Three: Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Thiem, 26, has crushed every of them on a couple of floor and has crushed Nadal and Djokovic in best-of-five-set Grand Slam play. However he’s now 0-Three in Grand Slam finals after his loss to Djokovic late Sunday night time.

It was a five-setter that was extra epic in size than temper, with Thiem failing to push Djokovic for lengthy on the finish of the fourth set or the fifth. The suspense by no means approached the high-anxiety ranges of final 12 months’s Wimbledon remaining, when Djokovic beat Federer in a tiebreaker after they received 12 video games every within the fifth set, a primary for a Wimbledon remaining. Sunday’s duel additionally fell wanting the five-set United States Open remaining in September, when Daniil Medvedev, 23, rallied from two units all the way down to push Nadal remarkably near his bodily limits.

However the theme remained the identical: the outdated guard holding off new blood, although now simply barely.

“I feel it’s solely small particulars,” Thiem mentioned. “It might have gone both method for Daniil within the U.S. Open and for me right here.”

The blockade of Grand Slam ports continues to be actual.

“It’s distinctive in sports activities historical past that the three greatest gamers by far are enjoying in the identical period,” Thiem mentioned. “That’s what makes it very, very tough for gamers to interrupt by means of.”

It’s, in fact, not fairly proper to proclaim the Large Three the most effective ever primarily based on their major-tournament counts. Stars in earlier eras typically skipped the Australian Open or turned skilled, rendering themselves ineligible for the Grand Slam tournaments, which have been reserved for “amateurs” till 1968. It’s only because the mid-1990s that taking part in all 4 of the occasions has turn into the rule.

Federer, the oldest of the Large Three at age 38, holds the boys’s report of 20 singles titles. Nadal has 19 and Djokovic has 17. The subsequent greatest lively gamers in Grand Slam titles are Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray with three apiece.

The French Open, the following main on the calendar, appears the logical place for Nadal to win his 20th. He has received a far-fetched 12 singles titles on the purple clay in Paris. Djokovic and Thiem are more likely to pose massive threats, however even when Nadal succeeds, that doesn’t imply Djokovic received’t quickly catch him and Federer.

Djokovic desires the report and likewise desires Federer’s report for complete time at No. 1. Djokovic reclaimed the highest rating from Nadal by profitable right here and is now in his 276th week at No. 1, behind Pete Sampras with 286 weeks and Federer with 310. Federer’s tenure as soon as appeared untouchable; Djokovic might surpass it in October.

“The No. 1 was not likely within the equation for me till I efficiently completed because the year-end No. 1 for a number of years in a row,” Djokovic mentioned of the report. “That’s one of many two largest targets for positive. I imply, there isn’t any secret in that.”

On the finish of the 2009 season, the highest three gamers within the rankings have been, so as, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. This week, a decade later, the order is Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

That the names haven’t modified, solely the order, is unprecedented. It additionally helps clarify why solely seven males have received main singles titles because the begin of the 2006 season. Throughout that very same span, there have been 25 completely different girls’s Grand Slam singles champions.

The temptation is to attribute the disparity to the boys enjoying greatest of 5 units and the ladies better of three with the shorter format lending itself extra simply to upsets. However better of three didn’t maintain Serena Williams from profitable 23 main singles titles and twice profitable 4 majors in a row.

Federer has speculated that the swap to 32 seeds as an alternative of 16, which got here in 2001 on the majors, was additionally an element within the elevated stability on the high. However the girls even have 32 seeds.

It appears, above all, cyclical, and Williams’s decline has coincided with a brand new technology’s rise. Ashleigh Barty is 23, Naomi Osaka is 22, Kenin is 21 and Bianca Andreescu is 19. All of them have received majors previously 13 months, and better of luck to those that need to predict the winner at upcoming majors.

Kenin, a Russian-born American, was hardly an unknown menace. She received three tournaments final season and likewise defeated Barty when she was No. 1 in Toronto and Osaka the next week when she was No. 1 in Cincinnati.

Kenin is at her greatest on hardcourts however had not been previous the fourth spherical in a serious event earlier than. In Melbourne, she defeated the fastest-rising younger expertise within the recreation, 15-year-old Coco Gauff. She then beat Barty, who was seeded No. 1 and had large Australian crowd assist. Within the remaining, Kenin confronted down the extra highly effective and aggressive Garbiñe Muguruza, a former French Open and Wimbledon champion.

It was fairly a run, and the pièce de résistance was the fifth recreation of the third set of the ultimate. At 2-2 and down 0-40, Kenin produced 4 groundstroke winners and an ace to carry serve. “That recreation goes to be with me without end,” Kenin mentioned.

Now ranked No. 7, she might turn into a high 10 common if she stays wholesome, however to surmise that she is now able to dominate is a stretch. She has pluck and a serve that’s surprisingly exhausting to assault. She has beautiful timing from the baseline, an improved forehand and a nasty drop shot. The previous two weeks she was unflappable. However others have larger weapons and extra velocity, and others, like Andreescu, have proven a knack of their very own for arising massive on the grand event.

“Sonya hates to lose,” mentioned Alex Kenin, her father and coach, utilizing her nickname. “It’s simply not an possibility, so she simply refused to try this.”

Nobody likes shedding, in fact, and his daughter, for all her fireplace and starvation, will certainly not catch any would-be champion unexpectedly.

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