Injuries, nicknames that aren’t, resurgent veterans, up-and-comers breaking through and two worthy champions – Australian Open 2014 had it all.By Darren Saligari | Sunday, 26 January, 2014
To win a Grand Slam tournament, you need everything going right for you. And for 127 men and 127 women, unfortunately not everything happened the way they wished.
Not only do you have to overcome seven opponents, but at Australian Open 2014 there were other significant mountains to climb – blazing heat, injuries, heartbreak and even being called the wrong nickname proved to be a mountain too high for some.
“It's not my nickname, some idiot put it on Wikipedia," stormed Marinko Matosevic in his post-match press conference. Matosevic was referring to the crowd calling out "Mad Dog", which he said distracted him during his first-round loss to Kei Nishikori in a five-set heartbreaker.
Sadly, Marinko wasn't the only player who experienced some form of identity crisis during the fortnight.
Victoria Azarenka was called "Vicki" instead of her preferred Vika, Tomas Berdych was told he looked like an Argentinean footballer, to which he replied "But I'm not. I'm still tennis player, and I'm happy for that." And Grigor Dimitrov, who has had to put up with the unwelcome nickname "Baby Fed", confirmed once and for all what his name is: “We have debated that for quite some time and we have said it loud and clear that my name is Grigor.” Dimitrov, however, managed to put it behind him on his way to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Speaking of identification issues, Sabine Lisicki seemed to be confused about who she lost to in the second round.
"Got beaten by the heat today. Very unfortunate but that's life. Thx so so much for your support out there!!" she tweeted. To set the record straight, it was Monica Niculescu, not the sun, who moved through to the third round.
The German was just one of a string of highly-ranked players who found themselves on an early flight home.
Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Jerzy Janowicz and Petra Kvitova were just some of the big names to fall.
Arguably Serena's demise was the least expected. The five-time champion seemed subdued in press all week, and it wasn't until her coach Patrick Mouratoglou let it slip that she had been experiencing problems with her back that it became clear why the 17-time Grand Slam champ didn't have her usual spring in her step.
"So he's the one that's snitching?" exclaimed Williams when questioned about her back. Up until that point Williams had not mentioned the issue and was keen to keep it under wraps; her coach, on the other hand ...
Both defending champions Djokovic and Azarenka failed to defend their 2013 crowns, each bowing out in the quarterfinals.
It wasn't the result that the two world No.2s wanted, but for Simona Halep and Ana Ivanovic, making it to the quarterfinals was a big step but for different reasons.
Halep won six WTA titles in 2013 but had failed to translate that into Grand Slam success, until now. Now with her first major quarterfinal under her belt, Halep has a solid base to build on in 2014.
Ivanovic's quarterfinal appearance here was just her second appearance in the final eight at a major since winning Roland Garros 2008.
She eventually lost to 30th seed Eugenie Bouchard, who pulled off one of the most memorable runs here for a while before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Li Na.
It was a dream come true for Li, who has been a finalist here twice. After a tight opening set against surprise finalist 20th seed Dominka Cibulkova, Li grabbed the ascendancy and rode it all the way to the presentation ceremony, where she gave one of the all-time classic speeches.
For Cibulkova, it was her first major final and despite the loss, the 20th seed was happy with her tournament.
"It was real long two weeks, very nice two weeks for me. I mean, the most beautiful."
From beautiful we switch to nightmare, which is perhaps the only way to describe the ongoing streak of first-round losses for local hopes Matosevic and Jarmila Gajdosova.
Matosevic's first-round loss stretches his Australian Open record to 0-12, while Gajdosova is 0-9 in Melbourne. After their respective losses, Gajdosova distanced herself from Melbourne Park, but Matosevic hurled a few grenades on the way out.
A broken hat, his coach – tennis legend Mark Woodforde – the crowd and the umpire all came under fire as Matosevic let it all hang out in the press room.
There was heartbreak of a different kind for Russian doubles duo Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova. Leading No.1 seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 5-2 in the deciding third set, the Russian duo had two chances to serve it out – and neither could. Instead the Italians won five games in a row to take the third set 7-5 and win back-to-back Australian Open titles.
And then there was Rafael Nadal. The No.1 seed looked a good chance to notch up his 14th major title before Stanislas “The Stanimal” Wawrinka and a back injury intervened.
All credit to the Swiss eighth seed, he played lights-out tennis in the first and second sets before Nadal’s back seized up, which not only robbed the Spaniard of movement but disrupted Wawrinka’s momentum.
Despite a brief fightback from Nadal in the third set, Wawrinka held on to close out the match in four sets 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 to win his first Grand Slam title and become the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic on the way to a major title.
What did you say?
“I’m sorry to finish this way, I tried very very hard … This year was one of the more emotional tournaments of my career… See you in 12 months.”
- Rafael Nadal during his acceptance speech on Sunday
It’ll be a long drive home for …
Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard will think that he has a Melbourne curse. He retired in the quarterfinals of Australian Open 2010, was injured in the quarterfinals of Australian Open 2011 and didn’t play here last year due to a knee injury. And now this. Rafa’s quest to win every major twice will have to wait at least one more year.