Tennis Prose



Serena Will Win AO

Serena Williams has never wanted to win a major as much as this Australian Open. She has been thwarted four times in a row in major finals, torturously denied of breaking the all time major title record she currently shares with Margaret Court (23).

Serena is showing her most intense beast mode already in January, as she used it as helpful fuel to win Brisbane against Jessica Pegula. Screaming, roaring, yelling, fist pumping, Serena means business. She is not going to be denied. This time.

The other top challengers are aware of the Serena storm. Naomi Osaka sat with Serena at the bush fire fundraiser yesterday and posted a photo of the two titans together, calling Serena “mom.” Osaka could meet her “mom” in the AO quarterfinals. Osaka will not beat Serena after calling her “mom.” She will mentally defer to the all time legend and subconsciously tank.

Only a few players have what it takes to knock off Serena at her most obsessed, most hungry, most driven best. Most of the WTA will roll over for her. Ashe Barty, Danielle Collins are both in Serena’s half of the draw. They could cause Serena trouble. But I expect Serena to raise her game and her level of intensity to whatever level it takes to get the job done.

There is an old, strange parable in boxing about the two boxers in a world title fight, who come face to face with each other before the fight at the press conference or weigh in and the one fighter is so starved for the victory, so desperate, it shows in his eyes and aura. And the other fighter, stricken by what he sees, feels it and senses it and psychologically defers and loses the fight right there.

A boxing trainer told me about this before a big fight at Madison Square Garden. How it’s similar to putting a starved snake into a giant cage with a rodent. The rodent eventually makes eye contact with the starving snake and just instantly surrenders. Does not even attempt to run away or survive, just lets the snake devour.

I feel there is something similar with Serena when she is in her most extreme beast mode, when she really, really wants something. Her burning desire is far beyond anything mortals can relate to. There is no denying Serena wants this AO title more than any other she has won. This is the one that affirms her all time greatest immortality. This is the one she has waited for the longest. This is the one she has been deprived of in four straight final losses (two at US Open, to Osaka and Andreescu, two at Wimbledon, to Kerber and Halep). Serena has not hoisted a major title in the air since beating sister Venus at 2017 Australian Open.

Ain’t no stopping Serena this time. She will win her 24th Grand Slam major in Melbourne.

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  • Jeff · January 19, 2020 at 12:20 am

    Zverev fired back at Kyrgios. He told media in Melbourne that “there’s a lot of young guys that are right now, no offence, just better than (Kyrgios).

    “I think Stefanos is better than him. Just simply because he is better over five sets and that’s what you need as well.”

    Kyrgios for his part didn’t fire back, saying he was sorry if he offended the German. Kyrgios also cited the fires as an excuse to not do well at the Open.

    “I guess my mind is still not completely on the tennis side of things. It’s tough. The fires, I mean, if you get down to it, people are losing their families, homes.”

    “It’s not easy to just completely switch your concentration on the Australian Open – how is your forehand going today? – when you put it in perspective of what is actually going on.”

    My take? I think the other young players like Shapo, Tsitsipas and Felix are not scared of Nick and don’t find him “cool.” And this is partly because those players sense the Big 3 winding down and their glory nearing. And they want no part of Nick’s nonsense as they try to lay claim to tennis greatness. Kyrgios is trying to bring them down to their level and they see right through him.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 12:59 am

    Andrew – just catching up re Yaz. She’s good, I admit, I spotted her a couple of years ago and thought she had a bit of variety as well as the power, but I don’t like her game so much when it’s just hitting hard, even when she wins. But that’s just me.

    Kerber’s not getting good coaching from the mediocre Kindlmann and her tactics are non-existent. She got hurt but would’ve lost anyway. Age is slowing her, all that. When you’re young it seems to me any decent coach will do if the talent’s there but coaching older players needs a special skill. Dealing with the physical decline and mental side, getting the best out of a player knowing the end’s in view. But ambitious coaches don’t want to do that. Can’t see Angie winning much now – maybe build up her involvement with other
    things – her academy, tournaments etc. Caroline Garcia helps run the tournament in Lyon, which is a good idea since her singles days look over.

    Angie’s too introverted. She says things like ‘It’s important to find myself first’ etc. It’s not always.

    I agree about Sabalenka. She must be going through hard times. But I thought her match v Hsieh was good – some really attractive tennis from both. Pity it wasn’t on th main court so got little attention.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 1:06 am

    Jeff – the press are trying to stir up things among the younger guys, some rivalries etc so the reporters will have something to write about for years to come. I think I understand what Nick’s saying and I sympathise. The others don’t live in Australia.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 3:05 am

    Oh and I forgot – Happy 32nd Angie 🙂

    Yesterday or today – I can’t get the time right. It’s not during the tournament this year so she could spend the whole day celebrating. 2019 was a bit ruined by Danielle Rose.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 4:39 am

    Re Vekic – she’s quite tall, about 5’11” I think, and slim so no,not as athletic as some of the other girls and not a naturally fast mover. If she can improve on this I can see her being a solid top 20, maybe move into top 10.

    Her brother Bruno is a serious pin-up 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Vekic is not a natural mover and probably not a super athlete but she’s doing something right.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 8:43 am

    It’s now or never for Kyrgios to make a statement at a major. Does seem to be latching on to the fires catastrophe as his excuse for bombing out. Or it could give him extra motivation to be a hero and to rise to his highest level as a player and person. Still scratching my chin over de Minaur’s early pullout. When did this abdomen injury happen, practice or ATP Cup? Why couldn’t he wait to Sunday to pullout, maybe treatment could have healed it. Or even just play doubles? Biggest week of the year for the lad and he pulls out a week early? Does not make sense to not wait it out and hope for a magical recovery.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 8:57 am

  • Hartt · January 19, 2020 at 9:15 am

    Kyrgios has a pattern of talking about external things giving him motivation or causing a problem. Remember when his foundation was going to be so motivating, that he would do well to earn $ for it? That did not pan out. Then it was playing for a team, doing well for his teammates. But that did not pan out either, with injuries playing their all too frequent role. Now he talks about being distracted by the fires, setting up an excuse for not doing well at the AO.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 9:28 am

    It has to be tough being Nick when he’s expected to win and everybody in Australia wants him to win. And he much prefers the underdog status. Third round would be a nice little run, QF would be fantastic.

  • Harold · January 19, 2020 at 9:31 am

    If he wins two matches, the convo will change to how great Kyrgios is, and he’s destined to win it for the fires, then he’ll lose and the convo will change again..don’t you just love the power a keyboard gives you..

    Think Kyrgios is doing a nice thing, playing mixed w/ Anisimova…it might be hes a good guy, trying to keep Anisimova busy, or Nike put them together..

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Interesting results at Rancho Santa Fe Futures. Brandon Nakashima (ATP 364) is in the final, crushed Ulises Blanch 60 61 in semi. Meets French prospect Geoffrey Blancaneaux. Martin and Michael Redlicki are twin bothers and are ranked within 14 spots of each other, 390 and 371, both are over 25 years old too. Amazing symmetry. Both Redlicki brothers lost to Blanch in the draw.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Harold your crystal ball needs a polishing. Or Kyrgios and Anisimova have a romance, like when Kyrgios and Bouchard played US Open together. And she allegedly slipped and fell and hit her head in the hot tub that night.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Hartt – Nick’s a young man. Young men do silly things. I think his heart’s in the right place. He strikes me as someone who’s got this big talent for hitting a tennis ball and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. The talent I mean, not the ball. Or maybe both on occasion.

    He’s not a bad person.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Kyrgios is already emotionally burned for the Australian, and he has rarely been physically ready for anything since his breakout. It’s ok, expecting him to win the Australian or make a deep run doesn’t make sense anyways. He will feel better having raised as much money as possible for his fellow Australians.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Seems Kyrgios could care more about putting out the fires than winning a tournament. No fault in that.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 10:22 am

    As to the sour Alex “Sacha” Zverev, most sour player in men’s tennis, he’s probably right. Kyrgios probably burned up emotionally, and he doesn’t take the sport as seriously as his racquet breaking peers like Zverev. He sees his country burning around him and has used his celebrity to good effect.

  • Hartt · January 19, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Catherine, I don’t think Nick is a bad person. There are many things to like about him. I just don’t have high expectations of him when it comes to tennis, and don’t take some of his pronouncements, like his foundation motivating him, too seriously. Doubtless he means it at the time, but he still doesn’t buckle down and do the necessary work to prevent injuries or to be ready to play well on a consistent basis.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 10:31 am

    If anyone caught Felix vs Rublev, Felix had him (I think) and Rublev somehow won that match. A few more shots, strategies (e.g. things like guile, mixing it up, etc) and I think Felix rises a few levels. Think Felix is an example of a player who does so much well that he needs someone that helps him sort out strategies, keep it simple.

    On his way to becoming quite a player. Really needs a strategy coach, someone who can tell him what it’s like to play him and how he can incorporate a few different plays to change it up on his opponents.

  • Jon King · January 19, 2020 at 10:35 am

    Hartt, the reason I am higher on Leylah Annie Fernandez than other smallish players is 3 things. One, as discussed before, there are types of thin. Kayla Cross for example has thin legs without a lot of muscle fiber to work with for a trainer to develop. Fernandez is different. She is wiry and has great muscular structure. She can definitely keep developing her strength going forward.

    The second is she is a shot maker. Thats something thats hard to teach. I have seen her on defense with the opponent closing on the net, and she can whip a ball on a tight arc on an extreme angle, while on the run. Thats special to have the mindset to attempt that shot and the skill to pull it off.

    3rd, she has great timing. Again, hard to teach. Her timing allows her to attack the bounce which does several things. It uses her opponents pace against them, takes time away from them, and somewhat lessens the issue with her height.

    She will be a fun player to watch going forward.

  • Hartt · January 19, 2020 at 11:09 am

    Jon, am so glad to hear those positive things about Leylah Annie Fernandez. Also, it looks like she can find solutions on the court. In that Tebbutt article she talked about adapting to a couple players who used slice, etc., a lot, rather than power.

  • Hartt · January 19, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Andrew, I agree that FAA has so many things to choose from that shot selection can be a problem. Another problem is he tends to get tight in big moments, and misses shots he would normally make. Hopefully this will improve with more experience.

  • Hartt · January 19, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Catherine, there is a fun photo of Angie standing in front of a big “Happy Birthday” painted on an outdoors wall. I wish I could post it here.

  • catherine · January 19, 2020 at 11:24 am

    Hartt – thanks yes, I’ve seen it on an IG feed. The AO’s always been a special place for her because it was the start of her big year. I think she came first to Oz when she was 18. So it took 10 long years.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Hartt, agree with you. Noticed he could go for some safe shots that would have increased his odds for some points – putting the pressure on Rublev and raising the chance that Felix would win more of those points.

    Nadal (of course) does this very well – he plays with quite a lot of margin of error and wins a lot of “he should win these points” kind of points. There have been some players in past years (and now) who go for too much or feel like they have to go for too much, which works great for a few sets but not very well as matches go on.

    Next time around, and knowing this is hard, Felix AA will want to get out of that match with some margin for error in the third set. And the time after that, clear the bar in two sets. etc.

    Credit of course Rublev for giving himself a little more here. Just that whatever Rublev does, given he is a risk averse player who executes what he already does well, I think a player like Felix can learn from that – if he does what Rublev does, he beats Rublev at his own game.

    Felix should develop a few off pace shots. His idea of relentless pressure on the opponent is a good one, but he can also accomplish this by improving his return of serve.

    Switching players here, Shapovalov has improved in his service return (his backhand has also come together very nicely!). I’d like to see Shapovalov hit some more flat returns (work on that). I noticed he was guessing on the Humbert serve and both he and Felix should get to the point where their “educated guesses” pay off for them (rather than, “no idea where this is going”). They could step off the ball a little bit or take it sooner, whichever one should work better than being aced.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Humbert kind of shocked Shapovalov. I don’t think he plays lefties too often, so if I were Shapovalov I’d hope to learn from how Humbert mixed things up to trip up the field on the way to his title this week, and use it. Players can always learn from their opponents, and it was odd but I think I noticed Humbert making some subtle adjustments while playing Shapovalov, and that’s something any top player should do to work through a hard match.

    Tennis is hard work! I always love seeing a player think out there. Shapovalov seemed a little thrown off by a guy that played a little like him. That said it was nice to see Shapovalov going for his shots. He wasn’t able to read the Humbert serve well. I think Shapovalov should also hit his forehand a little harder – he plays with a lot of margin for error (excellent), but I think he needs to be able to hit that shot a little sooner.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Hartt, I noticed the best players like having a little more margin of error, they don’t like having players anywhere close to them in the scoreboard. One way they do this is by keeping it simple: hold serve and increase opportunities to break serve.

    I recognize that’s “easier said than done”. But it really works: opponents feel a lot more pressure when they HAVE to hold serve, and players feel a lot better already having held serve.

    I saw these guys do this at a younger age and they kept doing it now. It even helps when down in a match – they hold serve, break serve, then hold and force a tiebreak, etc.

    Those are the kinds of things these young guys will want to do in the biggest matches – keep it simple, hold serve, return serve well, break serve and then immediately hold serve.

    Again, sounds basic and simple and naïve. But when Nadal is blasting service returns, begin to see that this is how he makes other players nervous – he puts so much pressure on their serves!

  • Harold · January 19, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Your still only as good as your second serve, two of the better players struggling right now are FAA or Zverev..need to fix that fast. Shapo’s 2nd serve has improved, better results

    Some people just go for lines all the time, whether they are playing a great mover, where maybe you do have to for it. Or the not so great mover, who, you should hit the first ball with some margin of error to get a shorter ball on the next shot, and hopefully put away

  • Harold · January 19, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Mardy Fish is in 3rd place in a golf tournament right now, get that reporter to call him a journeyman golfer, maybe he’ll be inspired to win

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    True, second serve key and winning % off that. Nadal wins a lot of 2nd serve points, Sampras had an excellent 2nd serve. Agassi had a great return of serve so even as he wobbled on serve he could break back a few times.

    Funny that all appears in the stats. I just look at Zverev and say, good at best of three sets and prepares badly for best of five where he’s more exposed. Stands WAY too far back for his own good.

    Could just be his second serve is bad and as goes his second serve so goes his game.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 19, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    Nick is a very well liked popular person for reasons. Respetful to legends, engaging and friendly with kids, has the courage to do it his way.

  • Andrew Miller · January 19, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Barty is primed, Kyrgios probably exhausted. We’ll see – he is as capable of the second week as he is losing in straight sets in the second round.

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