MELBOURNE MADNESS: When you come to Melbourne, one thing strikes you: It’s so civil and user-friendly. You wind up saying to yourself, “These folks know how to live.” Then a guy (and it always seems to be a guy in his 20s) goes nuts and kills four people and injures 31 others with his car near the downtown train station.
“It’s very shocking and extremely saddening and disheartening,” said Serena. “Just so many sad things are happening around the world. To hit so close to home where…it’s down the street from the tournament, close to where a lot of players are staying…You just have to really pray for everyone involved in that sad situation.”
VENUS WILLIAMS – A SEA OF SERENITY AMIDST THE TURMOIL: In 1994, when Venus Williams made her debut in Oakland California, her bigger-than-life Dad made what seemed to be an outrageous boast. He claimed that his two daughters would not only end up to be No. 1 and No. 2,, but they would also revolutionize the game.
Venus and Serena would indeed both be No. 1, and yes, they revolutionized the game. But controversies – generated by them, their Dad or others – have swirled about them throughout their career. Did their camp fix matches between Venus and Serena? Was Serena committed enough? More recently, Russia’s Fed Cup Captain referred to them as “the Williams brothers.” A New York Times article relating to Serena was criticized for supposedly body shaming her, and just a few days ago ESPN broadcaster Doug Adler referred to Venus as a gorilla coming to net. Adler was dismissed.
But the Williams are tai chi masters when it comes to controversies. The other night Serena told a reporter she didn’t want to hear about the latest dustup. Then Venus was asked how the controversies impacted her and what she would say to the American public about the dynamic. She replied, “All I can say is it’s been a wonderful, wonderful career for me full of positives. That’s what I focus on. I mean what else can I do? It’s a beautiful life. That’s how I feel about every single thing. It’s just that simple, honestly.”
GO FIGURE: Brit Dan Evans ousted Aussie Bernie Tomic Friday night. Never mind that Tomic’s intense dad once said Evans wasn’t good enough to even practice with his son…Last night as Federer went on court, Jim Courier reportedly said Roger had a scared look in his eye that was something he [Courier] had never seen before. Then Roger put on a sublime perfomance.
FEDERER’S COACH – SEVERIN LUTHI ON WHAT MAKES FEDERER TICK
Following Roger’s memorable win over Tomas Berdych, Inside Tennis caught up with Federer’s longtime coach Severin Luthi.
INSIDE TENNIS: That was such a performance tonight by Roger. It was such a combination of strokes. There was a lot of beauty, power, variety. Was this as great a single display of shot making as you’ve seen?
SEVERIN LUTHI: Roger is always able to surprise us, even me. He’s played a lot of great matches. But obviously tonight the level was amazing, so offensive, so sharp. It was unbelievable.
IT: His backhand has such variety, flow, power and grace. What is the key to his backhand?
SL: You have to see the whole game. The base for Roger is his serve. When he’s serving well, and he gets through his service game more easily, then his whole game is going to be easier for him. He was very sharp. He had the right mindset, was very offensive, and then everything came together and it was good that he was in front in every set so it was possible for him to play more offensively.
IT: In terms of what makes his greatness, is it a mix of his technique, his mind and his fitness? Is that what leads to his brilliance?
SL: I think Roger has everything, we know that, you know, and it’s tough sometimes to say what is the first thing to bring the other ones maybe also on top…today obviously everything was really on top.
IT: Talk about his love of the game. He just goes on and on.
SL: One of his biggest strengths is his appreciation for the sport. It gives him so much energy. It never looks like Roger has to go to work, but he’s playing, and so that’s a huge advantage for him.
IT: An impossible question Sevrin, but can this man lift the trophy a week from Sunday?
SL: That’s not the question we’re going to ask ourselves. Tonight we are really happy how we played. And now we have to keep the next match in mind. Still, I always say Roger is good enough, he has the level to beat anyone. But no, we’re not going to think that far.
IT: So what’s the one thing you like most about working with Roger Federer?
SL: The thing I like most is that he’s a great guy. That helps the most. Then, obviously it’s his game. It really helps that he’s such a nice guy, such a relaxed guy.
ISTOMIN IS STILL THE MAN: The other night Uzbekistan’s Dennis Istomin ousted the formidable Novak Djokovic – what a triumph! But surely, like so many long shots who score monster upsets, he would let down and come to earth in the next round. Wrong – he scored yet another five-set win over Pablo Carreno Busta.
THE NEW NO. 1? Alexander Zverev – the German 19-year old of German origin – has No. 1 written all over him. Our prediction: The skinny Huck Finn-like kid will buck up and win a Slam within three years.
WHAT IF: ESPN asked what if the young, super talented Nick Krygios had the same tennis sense, discipline and support team of Alexander Zverev?
THE ENGLISH PEOPLE ARE FAR TOO WELL-MANNERED? Dan Evans said Bernie Tomic’s support box, “acted like complete idiots in the box, screaming at me when I was getting my towel…and the umpire sees it as well and doesn’t say anything…I wish some of those people in my box…The English people are too well-mannered…The guy was just screaming at me. Give him hell, Bernie. There’s nothing on that tennis court which could be hell, is there? What happened in Melbourne today is hell. It’s an embarrassment.”
KONTA, DENY IT: Rising Jo Konta, who beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1 and also won the Sydney warmup tournament, is a force to be dealt with. After Serena, Pliskova and Kerber, she is a fave for the title.
THE BIG GIRL WHO MAKES THE COURT SEEM SMALL: It’s tough to play Serena. Just ask American Nicole Gibbs, who fell today 6-1, 6-3 to Williams. “The net felt ten feet high today. [I was] definitely feeling the nerves…She’s tall and takes up a lot of space. You feel like you have to place the ball on a dime. So I was trying to go for too much….Anytime I was just putting the serve in, she was all over it. She makes the court feel very, very small.”
Gibbs conceded that there’s also a locker room or intimidation factor with Serena. Gibbs said Serena is “in a league of her own, especially for someone like me. I grew up watching the Williams sisters on TV. She turned pro when I was three. I’ve been watching her for the entirety of my tennis life…That does play into how you feel – it becomes more than a tennis match…[so you] have to find a way to humanize your opponent and realize she’s doing the same thing out there that you’re doing…and [she’s] someone just bringing back tennis balls instead of thinking, ‘I’m playing my hero.'”