New v/s Old has been the theme of this Australian Open. Not necessarily always age wise but certainly slam wise. In both the men’s as well as women’s circuit, the heavyweights with multiple slams have tried to stave off the challenge posed by young upstarts. The results have been contrasting and show just how different both legs are presently.
When Bernard Tomic made the quarter finals of last year’s Wimbledon, he was the youngest to do so since Boris Becker! At 19, he is still a young hope and ‘bright star’ of men’s tennis. Which basically means he will have to bide his time. Although barely 2 years older than him, the current no.1 of women’s tennis, Caroline Wozniacki is hounded with questions over why she still can’t win a slam. People urge detractors to lay off Tomic and give him some time. Wozniacki will field more uncomfortable questions after her straight set loss today to Kim Clijsters.
For quite some time, the men’s circuit has become extremely demanding and highly competitive. As a result, only the most seasoned and accomplished players tend to go the distance at the slams. The youngest player left in the men’s draw at this point is Kei Nishikori and he’s already 22, older than Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova! Hot favourite for the men’s title Novak Djokovic turns 25 this May and is looking at a window of 2 to 3 years in which to bag as many slams as he can. Beyond that, the wait can get excruciating as new opponents raise the bar. Ask Roger Federer!
With Rafael Nadal to play Thomas Berdych and Andy Murray to take on Nishikori, the most familiar semi final draw is all set to be reprised. Don’t rule out an upset yet but time and again, those four gentlemen, Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray, have kept rivals away from even a semi final slot, let alone a slam. The last one to breach this impenetrable wall was Juan Martin Del Potro, who won the US Open in 2009. Today even his best appeared not nearly enough against Federer.
Things couldn’t be more different in the women’s draw. Maria Sharapova and Clijsters are the only familiar faces left in the women’s draw. Don’t believe me….ask somebody who is a bit out of touch with the women’s scene. If you told him Kvitova or Victoria Azarenka are among the top contenders for the title and Serena Williams is not in the hunt, he would be shocked.
It’s not their fault, really. For the last two years, the women’s draw has been anything but stable. Upto 2010, Serena Williams could walk right into a slam and more or less duly collect the trophy if she so pleased. Clijsters followed suit. In last year’s Wimbledon, even a hugely unreliable ball toss couldn’t stop Sharapova from strolling to the finals. Sharapova, 25, is already a veteran and winner of three slams. If it seems as if she’s been around forever, it’s because that’s indeed the case. Young, up and coming players didn’t seem to have the answers and faltered either on account of inconsistency or simply a lack of depth.
In the meantime, seasoned players who could not overhaul the might of either Williams sibling or other multiple slam winners have cashed in on this vacuum to collect a slam for themselves. Francesca Schiavone and Li Na helped themselves to French Open titles and Sam Stosur fetched a US Open title, beating a below par Serena.
At this year’s Australian Open, Serena could not even halt the march of unseeded southpaw Ekaterina Makarova. Her elder sibling, Venus, is physically incapacitated at the moment. Clijsters is the last player from that generation holding fort for the old. She has publicly declared that this is her last fling at the Australian Open. The old appears more and more unable to resist the new in the women’s draw. On the other hand, the new kids on the block in men’s tennis turn up at the slams only to find themselves confronted with ‘new’ questions as the old continue their relentless march.
Today, both draws briefly converged. Del Potro’s powerful ball-striking was not enough against Federer’s formidable repertoire. While it was not a walk in the park, Federer more or less out-thought and outplayed him all the way. In spite of nerves and the resulting errors, Clijsters too had a relatively comfortable win against Wozniacki. What was common to both matches was also that the veterans here showed more willingness to come forward and take on their opponent at the net, who were caught well behind the baseline.
And that’s where the similarities will likely end. Clijsters will probably find the rest of her opponents more fearless and aggressive. And Federer will likely meet old nemesis Rafael Nadal! Normal service resumes.