Clijsters & Djokovic rise up Down Under
By Scott Riley,
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The first Grand Slam event of the year is in the books, as Kim Clijsters and Novak Djokovic became the latest champions at the Australian Open.
For Clijsters, it marked her first major title outside of New York, while Djokovic made sure he wouldn't finish his career as a "one-hit wonder."
Clijsters is now a four-time major champion, but she'd only ever previously been able to break through at the U.S. Open, where she's the two-time reigning champ. "Aussie Kim," as she's affectionately referred to in Melbourne, reached an Aussie Open final back in 2004, but lost then to fellow Belgian rival Justine Henin, who, by the way, retired for a second time last week...but that's another story.
|Kim Clijsters is now a four-time major champion and has captured the last two Grand Slam events.|
The 27-year-old Clijsters had to fight back in last week's Oz finale, as she fell behind against China's Li Na before recording a three-set decision at Melbourne Park.
Kimmy is now 4-4 in her career Grand Slam finals, which includes a pair of French Open losses and a U.S. Open setback at the hands of Henin back in 2003. (She also lost to Henin in a French Open final.) But she's now won the last two majors on the women's tour, which makes her the true No. 1, no matter what those goofy WTA rankings say.
The 23-year-old Djokovic, meanwhile, improved to 2-2 in his career Grand Slam finals, with his other victory coming in Melbourne three years ago. The steady Belgrade native, who closed out 2010 by leading Serbia to its first-ever Davis Cup title, was last year's U.S. Open runner-up to Rafael Nadal and also lost in the U.S. Open finale, to Roger Federer, in 2007.
A third-seeded Djokovic played perhaps the best tennis of his career over the last two weeks, dropping only one set en route to the lucrative title. "Nole" straight-setted the great Federer in the semifinals and then whipped fifth-seeded British star Andy Murray, also in straights, in the finale.
|Novak Djokovic secured his second Aussie Open title in four years.|
FYI: Djokovic has beaten Federer in the last two majors, with the other victory coming in the U.S. Open semis back in September. That affair in New York was a five-set thriller.
Note: Both Clijsters and Djokovic pocketed more than $2 million for their heroic efforts in Oz.
Perhaps the biggest news in Melbourne was Nadal's failure to complete the so- called "Rafa Slam." The super Spaniard headed Down Under with hopes of becoming the first man in 42 years to win four straight major championships.
He didn't (win, that is).
Nadal suffered an untimely leg injury and was only half the man when he succumbed to seventh-seeded fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in straight sets in the quarterfinals. Nadal retired with a knee injury in his quarterfinal match against Murray in Melbourne last year.
|Injured Rafael Nadal failed in his bid to become the first man in 42 years to capture four straight Grand Slam titles.|
Note: Aussie icon Rod Laver is the last man to capture four straight majors, which he did in the same calendar year, for a true Grand Slam, in 1969. "Rocket" Rod also accomplished the feat in 1962.
The 24-year-old Nadal, of course, is still No. 1 in the world as the holder of three of the four Grand Slam titles. But he'll have to start all over again in his bid for four straight Slams at the French Open this spring. The mighty "King of Clay" is the reigning French Open champ and has captured Roland Garros no less than five times.
Nadal wasn't the only world No. 1 to get sent packing in Melbourne last week, as Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki was ousted by the aforementioned Li in the semis. Wozniacki is somehow ranked No. 1 despite having never won a major championship. And she's only ever reached one major final, which came two years ago at the U.S. Open. And Clijsters has won the last two Slams for a mini dynasty!
A ninth-seeded Li became the first-ever Asian player, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam final last week. She held a surprising 6-3 lead before losing to Clijsters in three sets, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. The ever-improving Chinese slugger had been a perfect 11-0 this season, including a victory over Clijsters in a final in Sydney just two weeks earlier.
|Li Na came up just short in her attempt to give China its first-ever major tennis champion.|
The 28-year-old Li is now a career-high No. 7 in the world.
Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva failed in her bid to reach a third straight Grand Slam final when the Wimbledon and U.S. Open runner-up bowed out against, who else, a third-seeded Clijsters in the Aussie semis.
America's only women's hope in Melbourne was Venus Williams, but the injury- plagued former No. 1 quit in the second game of her third-round bout against capable German Andrea Petkovic. The seven-time major champion suffered an injury to her "psoas" muscle, which apparently flexes the hip and spinal column.
The 30-year-old Venus hasn't reached an Aussie semi since 2003, the year she lost to her younger sister in an all-sibling final.
Venus was the only Williams sister in Oz this year, as the five-time champion Serena skipped the major while continuing to recover from some foot surgery that was performed last summer. The former No. 1 has been sidelined since July, when she captured a second straight Wimbledon title. She was unable to defend her title in the 'Bourne, where the American great beat her arch-rival Henin in last year's finale.
Henin, as it turns out, played her final professional match, in Melbourne, when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in a third rounder two weeks ago. The seven-time major champion had hoped to come out of retirement, which she did at the beginning of last year, with designs on capturing an elusive Wimbledon title. But that's obviously not going to happen now.
|Justine Henin was a third-round loser in Melbourne, then retired from tennis for a second time in three years last week.|
The 28-year-old Henin first retired in May of 2008, at which time she became the first-ever standing No. 1 to call it quits. She was No. 13 when she hung up her racquet this time around, citing a right elbow injury as the reason for her latest retirement. She suffered some ligament damage in the elbow when she fell onto the court during a match against Clijsters at Wimbledon last year, and "Juju" wound up missing the rest of the 2010 campaign. She finally returned earlier this month, to no avail.
Good luck (again), Justine.
What happened to the second-seeded Federer in the merry old land of Oz?
|Roger Federer hasn't reached a Grand Slam final since last year's Aussie Open.|
Don't look now, but the 16-time major champion failed to reach a Grand Slam final for a fourth straight time, as he gave way to a high-flying Djokovic in the semis.
The Swiss legend is a four-time overall champion and was the reigning titlist in Melbourne, having beaten Murray in last year's title tilt.
Is the Fed done winning majors now? He can't even get to a Grand Slam final anymore (or at least not over the last seven months).
Note: The amazing Federer has reached eight straight Aussie Open semis.
Murray, meanwhile, is now 0-3 in his career major finals and has failed to even win a set in one of 'em (0-9). In addition to his latest Grand Slam final setback, he lost to Federer in last year's Aussie title match and also fell against Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open championship bout.
The 23-year-old Murray came up short in his attempt to give Britain its first male Grand Slam champion in almost 75 years. British men haven't broken through in the last 280 major championships, or since Fred Perry captured the 1936 U.S. Open.
And what happened to American hopeful Andy Roddick?
|Andy Murray was the runner-up in Oz for a second straight year.|
The former No. 1 and four-time Aussie semifinalist went belly up at the hands of the other Swiss, Stan Wawrinka, in the fourth round last week. Roddick has struggled mightily at the majors since losing that marathon five-set heartbreaker against Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final.
The 2003 U.S. Open champ simply hasn't had the eye of the tiger at the last six majors, or maybe he just isn't the same player anymore. And when I say the same player, I mean the Andy Roddick who used to routinely get himself into major quarterfinals and semifinals with that massive serve, blistering forehand, and gritty determination.
Maybe married life (Brooklyn Decker) has gotten to him?
FYI: The last American man to rule in Melbourne was Andre Agassi in 2003.
The most disappointing man in Melbourne had to be fourth-seeded Swede Robin Soderling. The reigning two-time French Open runner-up fell to 46th-ranked Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in five sets in the fourth round. Many thought that Soderling could reach the semis Down Under, including yours truly.
Note: Only four men have captured major titles since the 2005 Aussie Open -- Federer (12), Nadal (9), Djokovic (2) and Juan Martin del Potro (1).
And what the heck happened to Maria Sharapova?
|Caroline Wozniacki continues to be a suspect No. 1.|
The former world No. 1 and owner of three major championships, including an Aussie Open one as recently as 2008, was upended by the aforementioned Petkovic in the fourth round. The oft-injured Russian bomber is a two-time finalist in Melbourne, including a runner-up finish there back in 2007.
Another highlight in Melbourne was the longest-ever women's Grand Slam tennis match, as French Open champ Francesca Schiavone outlasted the two-time major titlist Kuznetsova in 4 hours, 44 minutes in a fourth-round epic. The Italian Schiavone prevailed in a remarkable 30-game third set, 16-14.
Here we go again...
The host Aussies haven't had a singles titlist at their home Slam since Chris O'Neil captured the ladies' title in 1978. And the last Aussie men's champ there was Mark Edmondson, way back in 1976. An unseeded Edmondson upset Aussie great John Newcombe in that particular finale to capture his first-ever ATP- level title.
On the prediction front, I was correct with my Clijsters pick, but missed with Federer in Melbourne.
We'll just have to get 'em next time.
Where have you gone, (two-time Aussie Open champion) Johan Kriek?