AUSSIE OPEN BUZZ: Of Shot Puts and Shot Poets and the First Teenage Dad in Pro Tennis History

Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN MELBOURNE WHEN…They play cricket in the huge 102,000-seat stadium right by the tennis arena…On changeovers they play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”…People emanate a certain athleticism…The stodgy 109-year-old building you pass has a plaque that reads, “This stone was laid by The Right Honorable The Lord Mayor Councillor Sir Henry Weedon, Knt., M.P., 27th August 1908.”

OF SHOT PUTTERS AND SHOT POETS: Aga Radwanska dashed to the net to retrieve a nasty Tsvetana Pironkova drop shot, then exploded into an an 11-step staccato dash to retrieve an adept lob and proceed to wallop a between-the-legs shot – a tweener – that whizzed by Pironkova for a jaw-dropping winner. Radwanska didn’t smile. But she had to be happy. “The Ninja,” the WTA’s most inventive shot poet, has claimed the Shot of the Year Award four straight times. It’s just January, but she should win the award again. (BTW: Allow us to ask, if track and field can feature the shot put, why can’t tennis feature shot poets?)

TAYLOR FRITZ – THE MANCHILD WHO WOULD BE KING: On the one hand, 36-year-old Venus Williams has seven Slam singles titles, a pre-approved ticket to the Hall of Fame and a legacy like few others. But, unlike a lot of other thirtysomethings, she doesn’t have a fiance, a husband or a child. In contrast, young Taylor Fritz has a wife and any day is due to be a dad. We can’t think of any other top 100 player who has had so many formative life experiences so young. Although he has been hobbled by an old man ailment, a sore knee, the eager wannabe is just 19.

Fritz has great Milos Raonic-like hair, an smile that lights up the room, a great serve that can dominate, and Cary Grant good looks. He’s gifted and he comes from a vastly successful family that excelled in running department stores (the May Company) and in hitting tennis balls. His mom, Kathy May, won seven WTA titles and his dad Guy Fritz was a considerable pro too.

Taylor seems wise beyond his years. In 2015 he was the world’s junior champion. Last February in Memphis, he became the second-youngest player to ever reach an ATP final.

The word precocious comes to mind. When reflecting on his marriage to his sweetheart Raquel Pedraza, Fritz adeptly noted, “One thing I’ve always said is that if you look at Federer, Djokovic, Murray – they’ve all married the person they were with before they even started their pro careers. It says a lot having someone who’s been there with you from the start to keep you focused, someone who cares about your career. So, hopefully my marriage will have the same effect.”

Now ranked No. 93, he lost in the first round to Gilles Muller, but he has achievements few other teens can claim. As best we and the top experts in Melbourne can tell, he soon will be the first teenage parent in the history of pro tennis and, with his tennis genes, his game and his ambition, Fritz could become a star.

JUST WONDERING: Years ago, the likes of Lindsay Davenport and Venus and Serena Williams ushered in “Big Babe” tennis. Now the question is, can young Reilly Opelka, who is just a tad below seven feet, package his quickness, his eye-hand coordination and overall athleticism and eventually take tennis to a whole new “Big Boy” place in a way that (for all their triumphs) John Isner and Ivo Karlovic just have not? Opelka’s skill sets suggest what it would have been like if NBA legend Bill Walton had taken on tennis.

DR. IVO’S HOUSE CALL: Ivo Karlovic beat Horacio Zeballos 6-7(6), 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 22-20 in five hours and 15 minutes. The Croat veteran blasted 75 aces, which is an Aussie Open record. By the number of games played (84), the match was the longest Aussie Open match since tiebreaks were introduced in 1971. The longest Grand Slam final match in Aussie Open history came in 2012.

EQUALITY: In recent years inequality has reigned on the WTA Tour. Serena has dominated. But off the court Williams is all for equality. In fact, she walked into the press room Tuesday with a bold T-shirt that simply read “equality.” She told IT, “With today being Martin Luther King Day, it’s important to spread the message of equality, which is something he talked about a lot and tried to spread – equality and rights for everyone…We really just want to speak up about things that we believe in and talk about equality.” When asked whether she was concerned about the future of equality in America, Serena said, “It’s a concern for everyone…We want to make sure we always continue to move forward and always have the opportunity to have equal rights for all. We don’t want to stop that forward movement. It’s just always great to raise awareness for it.”