Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
And I’m not talking about Mayfair’s new weight loss program.
Obviously, if you’re a tennis fan you know where I’m heading – it truly was an exhilarating week of tennis in Melbourne that none of us who witnessed it will soon forget. I am left with tennis anxiety – I got up this morning hoping to see one more brilliant match – but realized it is all over, until the red clay of Roland Garros in May takes centre stage. As a die-hard fan – this is way too long to wait. Let’s hope the Leafs make a playoff run or my sports addiction will suffer!
I know people will want to start calling Sunday’s epic match between Djokovic and Nadal the greatest ever. I’m not going to do that. There are too many memorable matches in the last 5 years to even think along those lines. But is it the greatest Grand Slam ever?
Yes, I believe it was.
It all started with Li Na and Kim Clijsters in the middle Sunday of the event. What drama in this match. To think this was just the beginning of some of the best tennis in a one week period we’ll ever see. Clijsters battled back from 4 match points and a wonky ankle to defeat the French Open champion in one of the most memorable women’s matches ever played. But little did we know the engines were just being revved up.
The six combined matches in the men’s and women’s draw – from the semi-finals onward – had everything a fan could ask for. We were able to witness drama, controversy, momentum changes, irony, jaw-dropping tennis, athleticism, horrible line-calls, relentless motivation, courage, guts and tenacity like never before.
If all matches went to the maximum sets (9 possible for the Women and 15 possible for the men) we had the potential for 24 sets of tennis in the final 4 of both events. Well, we weren’t that far off – starting mid-week in Rod Laver arena we saw 22 sets that were some of the most scintillating tennis matches ever played. Unfortunately, Federer and Nadal only played four sets, and the women’s final was a blowout with Azarenka winning 12 of 13 games at one point as she destroyed Sharapova 6-3, 6-0. If these two matches went the distance we would have hit the magical 24 sets.
If it weren’t for #1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki losing a close quarterfinal to Kim Clijsters, we would have had the top 4 seeds in both the Men’s and Women’s draws advancing to the Semi-Finals. This is rarely done in one of the events let alone both events.
Now that Murray, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal have clearly risen past the rest of the field this seems more likely in the men’s draw than it ever has before. If these guys keep it up, we may see it for the remainder of the season. I’m not sure whether guys like Del Potro, Tsonga and Berdych can compete at this level in the Grand Slam events with the fearsome foursome that seem to be getting better by the day.
The women’s draw also has that potential (Sharapova, Clijsters, Azarenka and Kvitova look to be the dominant players on the WTA tour) – but to think we were that close to seeing both at the same time is amazing – and even more amazing because it has never happened before.
What does this mean? It means we were able to witness some great tennis – with the best names in the game going to head-to-head.
Does anybody remember the superb semis between Azarenka and Clijsters or Sharapova and Kvitova? These matches went the distance and had the fans at the edge of their seats for the majority of the time.
And what about the Men’s semis – marquee names slugging it out for almost 10 combined hours. As I was watching I thought it just can’t get any better. Andy Murray down 5-2 in the fifth and final set staged a dramatic comeback and was an eye lash away from a monumental upset. He had 3 break points at 5-5 in the decisive set but wasn’t able to deliver when it mattered most. Djokovic – as he has for the past 15 months – escaped again as he looked down and out.
Nadal and Federer was just as good. The best rivalry in sports always seems to live up to its expectations. And this one definitely didn’t disappoint with Nadal coming up with a miraculous shot facing break point in the pivotal 10th game of the 4th set when he was serving for the match. How he stretched with all his might to retrieve a bullet into the forehand corner and send up a perfect lob that dropped just inside the baseline is beyond me. This was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen from a guy who has a history of great shots and the most opportune moments. Nadal – despite his tender knee – was at his jack-rabbit best and moved around the court covering almost 18 miles in 7 matches.
If you haven’t already noticed I saved the best for last.
This match between Nadal and Djokovic had it all – including an awkward 10-minute rain delay that should have been averted if the weather geeks had been on the ball and shut the retractable roof ahead of the massive storm that would eventually hit Melbourne.
How these guys were able to slug it out for almost 6 hours is beyond believable. They looked like boxers going toe-to-toe except they didn’t make it a 15-round bout – this was more like a 50-round tilt. The tennis was spectacular and just when you thought one guy was on the ropes – the other guy would respond with something miraculous that would change the momentum. The spirit and will to win was off the charts – both men have elevated the sport to standards we’ve never seen before. The match lasted well into the morning (Melbourne time) but I was so sad it ended. I wanted more. Selfishly, I would love to have seen a best of 7. What more could these guys produce with their bodies almost out of gas?
How did Djokovic – down 4-2, 30-15 in the crucial 7th game of the final set – muster enough energy to stage one final comeback? He looked wobbly and completely finished. Yet, when Nadal missed the easy backhand down-the-line passing shot that would have put him 5 points from the finish line – the Djoker found one last burst of energy that would carry him through the final 35 minutes of the match. He had the eye of tiger and it never disappeared. The momentum shifts were mesmerizing. The mood shifts were dramatic. The match was breath-taking when you consider what was at stake. Djokovic was relentless in his will to win a 5th major. He would not be denied.
And now we can look forward to the possibility of him winning the Nole-slam – holding all four trophies at the same time. The traditional grand slam requires winning all four majors in the same calendar year. This is still possible for the Serbian maestro but the Nole-Slam is definitely a reachable goal. A win on the red clay of Paris will give Djokovic 4 consecutive grand slams – something that hasn’t been done in the men’s game since Rod Laver back in the 60s. Last year he was denied a shot at the French title when he went down to Roger Federer in the semi finals. This year he will be a heavy favourite in Paris – yes, a heavy favourite – even on Rafa’s best surface – a tournament he has won 6 of the past 7 years. Hard to believe Nadal with his dominant record on the red clay will be an underdog – but keep in mind one thing – Djokovic has now beaten Nadal in 7 straight finals. One more element of drama – Djokovic has won the Australian 3 times, Wimbledon once and the US Open once. A win in Paris will give him his first French title and he will join a select group who’ve won majors on 4 different surfaces.
I can hardly wait.