January 19th marks the start of the Australian Open the first grand slam tournament of the year on the tennis calendar. Every tournament is unique but each grand slam tournament has its own set of quirks that sets it apart from all the others.
So here are the things I look forward to as the Australian Open gets underway.
The first quirk of the Australian Open is that being held down under everything takes place 16 hours ahead of my home base in Toronto, Canada. As any avid fan knows it is necessary to prepare for a tournament where matches begin at 10pm and continue through the night. Coffee supplies must be topped off as well as middle of the night munchies including bread for toast but skipping the Vegemite and sticking with peanut butter.
All appointments during the day must be scheduled in the late afternoon allowing catch up sleep to occur in the late morning.
My match tracking begins with television watching, but when my eyes start to get really heavy, I turn off the tv and tune in to AO radio, available on the tournament app. It is amazing how adept the commentators are at calling a match, I can picture every point until I fall asleep only to wake up in the middle of an entirely different match. There is a kinship among tennis fans this time of year when they knowingly look at each other and need no explanation for the huge bags under the eyes and the bigger than usual cup of java in the hand.
I am looking forward to the new kits or outfits the players will be debuting at the first grand slam of the year. I am so glad the colourless and overly ruffled Adidas Stella McCartney dresses are gone forever and hope that the 2015 collection is significantly more appealing.
Previews of the Nike collections appearing online are a little scary looking. The purported dresses for Serena and Maria did not appear all that flattering and the print patterns on some outfits are interesting. On the men’s side of things it seems that bright pink may be the new black.
The Uniglo outfits for Djokovic and Nishikori that have been seen online appear extremely conservative to the point of being boring. Hopefully there will not be anymore butterflies for Radwanska in Lotto and maybe the Lacoste dresses will actually have enough skirt length on them to be called dresses. And as for Camila Giorgi’s dresses words fail me in regards to both their fit and their length so let’s see what she unveils for 2015.
As I struggle through a winter of snow and sometimes bitterly cold temperatures it is somehow satisfying to see the players struggle in the heat. If we are lucky maybe more players will have heat induced hallucinations like Canadian player Frank Dancevic, who saw Snoopy appear on court during his match last year. Hopefully after the disastrous handling of a player in heat distress at the U.S. Open , serious heat illness will be dealt with in a more acceptable manner.
On Twitter I look forward to following various commentators and players. I enjoy Brad Gilbert’s upset predictions as well as his creative player monikers.
Other good accounts to follow during the tournament include Courtney Nguyen, @fortydeucetwits and if you are into match statistics @sharkotennis. For a Canadian viewpoint Stephanie Myles @opencourt is the one to follow. Twitter also seems the best way to get tournament updates especially if there are rain delays or you are following several matches simultaneously.
Since the grand slam tournaments are among the few events that have mixed doubles as well as ladies and men’s doubles it would be great if more of these matches were televised. These matches are much faster paced than singles matches and they can be very entertaining.
As far as predicting the winners, I always like to do it, but there are so many factors that come into play over the two weeks that it really becomes just a guessing game. On the men’s side, I would love to see Federer win it all and I really don’t think any of the up and coming players (Raonic, Dimitrov, Tomic) are quite ready to win a big one. On the women’s side I think Halep could take it all but you can never count out Sharapova or Serena and Venus showed us last week that she may be a force to be reckoned with as well.
In an odd sort of way my dark horses are Nadal for the men and Azarenka for the women, both on tour again after long injury layoffs.
The official start for 2015 for the ATP and WTA tours is just over a week old and certain things have picked up just where they left off at the end of 2014.
We saw several champions pick up additional trophies including Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Venus Williams on the women’s side and Roger Federer, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka on the men’s side.
But what I find both frustrating (as I am sure many tournament organizers do as well) are the number of injuries and withdrawals so early in the season.
The off season, although short, is supposed to be the time to let old injuries heal and get in top shape to prevent new injuries occurring. But many players spent a good chunk of the off season participating in the new IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) events, where ranking points were not involved but performance fees probably were.
And so right away as 2015 opened we had two top players withdraw from the first grand slam tournament of the season, The Australian Open.
Jo Wilfred Tsonga world #12 withdrew with a forearm injury, and he is a previous Australian Open finalist.
Marin Cilic the U.S. Open grand slam winner also has withdrawn, citing a right shoulder injury that has been plaguing him for over six months.
Rafa Nadal returning from an extended off time due to appendix surgery, suffered a first round loss last week so how his back/knees/wrist will hold up for the first Grand Slam event is a big unknown variable.
On the women’s side, this week has seen a number of withdrawals. Often players will pull out of a tourney the week before a Grand Slam if they feel that have had enough tournament play already and this most likely is the reason Simona Halep pulled out of this week after winning a title last week.
But at the Hobart tourney, American Christina McHale withdrew midmatch with an injury as did Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia. After seeing how taped up Lucic-Baroni’s leg was last week it did not surprise me.
And yesterday in Sydney there was the withdrawal of Caroline Wozniacki with a midmatch wrist injury. Wozniacki felt pain when hitting backhands and knew she could not win over Barbora Zahlavova Styrcova without her backhand. The question is will the wrist recover in less than a week?
The injuries and withdrawals will continue right up until the first ball is played at the Australian Open and they just may open the doors for some lucky losers, qualifiers or low ranked main draw entries to make some noise at the first grand slam of the season. I guess we will have to wait and see if anyone can take advantage of the opportunities that become available.
Last season was a breakout season for Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. She reached the semifinals of the first three majors, The Australian Open, Wimbledon and The French Open, making her the only WTA player to accomplish that feat in 2014.
By the end of the season she had reached a career high ranking of number 5 in the world putting her among the ranks of the elite players including Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova.
Looking forward to the upcoming season I must say I am feeling apprehensive about how her sophomore season will unfold. A number of changes have occurred in the Bouchard camp following all her success.
As with any successful athlete, endorsement opportunities became available almost immediately. Genie went from being the spokesperson for “Pinty’s” chicken products to signing a Canadian national deal with Coca-Cola. The demands for Genie’s presence at events increased, including promotional appearances for the WTA finals event in Singapore. In the offseason, Genie signed on with IMG to be her agent and she also signed a modelling contract with IMG as well.
Around the same time Genie severed her coaching relationship with Nick Saviano who has been her primary coach for the last eight years.
So as Genie enters the 2015 season she has not yet secured a coach and her focus solely on tennis appears to be in jeopardy, and as one can see by her Twitter posts she is enjoying the benefits of a good year.
Another factor to consider is that after the past year other players on the tour are now more aware of what to expect of her game when they play her and the pressure of now being expected to win changes the dynamics of the matches.
As we saw in some of Genie’s matches towards the end of the season most notably in Singapore, Genie can be stubborn when it comes to changing her game. If her aggressive game is not working she continually fires away instead of reigning in some of her shots until she gets back on track. As the star of Canadian tennis along with Milos Raonic i hope Genie has a great season but i will not be surprised if there are a few hiccups along the way.