AUSTRALIAN OPEN BUZZ: It’s a Free-Form Jazz Exploration Out There

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Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

NICK AND PANCHO – REBELS WITH A SERVE: He blasts, he flicks, he broods. He’s Nick. He combines flash power with a jazzy spontaneity like no other player ever. Whoosh – he slaps forehands and blasts second serves that move like lightning. He’s a free spirit who crosses lines, yet remains authentic. He splashes charisma and is his own man. Yes, there are hints of McEnroe’s temper and Connors’ punishing bluntness. More than any other player, he brings to mind an ornery outsider, a legend with a massive serve and a chip on his considerable shoulder – Pancho Gonzales. But tennis hasn’t talked about the once-dominant American star of Mexican heritage for eons. In contrast, we’ll be talking about Kyrgios, the compelling Australian with Greek and Malaysian roots, for years. Buckle your seat belt and enjoy what certainly will be a fascinating ride.


BIG DAYS FOR LITTLE PLAYERS: The women’s match of the tourney was between 5’1″ Lauren Davis and 5’5″ Simona Halep – and 5’7″ Diego Schwartzman battled gallantly before falling in four captivating sets to Nadal.

A CURIOUS QUESTION: A reporter asked Caroline Wozniacki if tennis – with all its new clocks and strict regulations – is in danger of losing its soul.

HEY KID, LISTEN TO YOUR ROGER: He has crazy good skills, big size, significant wins, an extraordinary tennis family, no-nonsense discipline and a high ranking, but Alexander Zverev has had trouble going deep into Slams. His best result? The quarters at last year’s Wimbledon. Not bad, you say. But tennis is a hard-edged expectations racket, and for a while the 6’6″ German has been touted as the one to replace Rafa and Roger. Federer, for his part, spoke with Zverev after his 6-0 loss in the fifth to Korean Hyeon Chung. The Swiss comforted the fallen No. 4 seed, and essentially told him to chill. The Swiss reminded Sascha that it took a long time to break through and he should lower the bar and, for now, set lesser goals than winning Slams.

WHAT A DAY FOR KOREA: Hyeon Chung shocked No. 4 seed Sascha Zverev to become the first Korean to reach the fourth round of the Aussie Open, and the International Olympic Committee announced a historic breakthrough. On February 9th, athletes from North and South Korea will march into the Olympic Stadium under a united banner. Sports do bring this little ol’ world together.

DJOKOVIC MEDITATES EVERY DAY: Arthur Ashe was renowned for meditating on changeovers. Yesterday Novak told IT he meditates “every day.” We then asked him, “Does it give you calm and insight?” He replied, “I don’t want to tell you what I gain…but I’ll tell you what I lose. I lose fear. I lose anxiety. I lose stress. At the end of the day…that’s what you’re looking for.”

ACCEPTING ALL: The religious Lauren Davis confided, “I’ve always struggled with being critical, being hard on myself. I made a commitment before the tournament that I’m going to be my own best friend and my greatest supporter, and accept all that God has to give me.”

HE NEVER TRIES TO BE ANYTHING ELSE: Veteran Aussie writer Linda Pearce noted about fellow Aussie Nick Kyrios, “For better or (often) worse, he is unfailingly honest and authentic; one of the most admirable Kyrgios traits is that he is who and what he is and has never tried or pretended to be anything else.”

QUOTEBOOK
“It’s a free-form jazz exploration out there with Kyrgios. He’s feeling his way.” – Jim Courier
“I’ve never done that in my career.” – Kyrgios on the foot fault that was called against him
“Short little legs, but boy do they move.” – Richard Evans on Argentina’s fast 5’7″ Diego Schwartzman
“Why the f–k did I play doubles? – Nick Kyrgios when he was broken at love by Jo-Willie Tonga
“One thing with the racket, that’s all you had to do all day.” – Kyrgios complaining to his physio Will Mar in his box about the tension of his strings
“Oh mama, are we seeing some tennis.” – Broadcaster Craig Gabriel near the end of the Simona Halep-Lauren Davis classic.
 “I don’t think there is a player out there who has a bigger first hit forehand [than Juan Martin del Potro]. He hits clean center, big balls.” – Brad Gilbert
“You can’t imagine if he gets healthy, him not winning more majors.” – John McEnroe on Djokovic
“Honestly, Caroline, stop complaining.” – Australian Open Radio to Caroline Wozniacki
“He [Tsonga] was a guy I looked up to as a kid. It was 2008 that I was going to all of his practice sessions with a new ball and got it signed. To get a win against him is a dream come true.” – Nick Kyrgios
“I’m surprised that such a lot of noise comes from such a little person.” – Craig Gabriel on Simona Halep
“He’s playing like his ranking and we haven’t seen that in previous rounds.” – Jim Courier on Grigor Dimitrov

GO FIGURE: The first two seeds in the women’s draw, Halep and Wozniacki, have survived match points…Korean Hyeon Chung beat No. 4 seed Mischa Zverev in the first round and his brother Sascha in the third round…Simona Halep not only doesn’t have a Slam, she doesn’t have a clothes contract…Aussies have the best nicknames in tennis. Our new fave is “Grothy” for Sam Groth. Inside Tennis’ Australian writer Tanya Liesegang tells us, “I always say, ‘Have a frothy for Grothy.'” A frothy is a beer.

LOOK WHO’S WATCHING: Federer’s coaches often watch videos of his press conferences.

TENNYS, ANYONE? Tennys Sandgren, who beat former champion Stan Wawrinka, remembers having a few beers in 2016 in a New York bar and watching as Wawrinka was about to win the US Open. His thoughts were simple: “That’s insane, an inhuman level of tennis.” Going into the Aussie Open, Sandgren hadn’t won a single Grand Slam match. About getting to the fourth round, he said, “It’s kind of silly, right?” And about being the last American guy in singles lineup, he said, “It’s pretty cool. It would be cooler if I could go a little farther, make a real result.”
As for getting rid of his long hair, he confided, “I woke up one day, said, ‘I can’t live my life this way. I either have to keep my hair long for a long time or we can move on and do something different, something a little easier…We’ll clean it up a little bit, look a little bit more professional.’…I don’t feel much like corporate tennis, but maybe quicker-shower tennis. I don’t have to use as much shampoo, which is good.”

RUSTY’S NOT SO RUSTY: Guess what – the sheriff is back in town. Lleyton (“I refuse to go away”) Hewitt is still competing. Rusty and his fellow Aussie, the big-serving, set-to-retire Sam Groth, beat the reigning US Open champs Jean-Julien Roger and Horia Tecau and then advanced to the quarterfinals due to a walkover. And little has changed for the feisty-as-ever Hewitt, whom the crowds now adore. Of course, now he’s older, and, yes, that’s his look-alike son in the front row cheering dad on. BTW: Lleyton’s soul bro, the equally feisty Jimmy Connors, made his great comeback run at his home Slam when he was 39 and his run was to the US Open singles semis. Lleyton’s a baby – just 36.

AH, TENNIS: While reflecting on Williams-beater Belinda Bencic, Jon Wertheim noted, “You outplay the great Venus Williams. You then get outplayed by Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum…Ah, tennis.”
 

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