Of Omens, Karma and Collins – The Aussie Open Buzz

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Photos by Getty Images

Bill Simons

OH, DANNY BOY – OR GIRL: It’s unlikely, but possible, that the Aussie Open will have a men’s champion named Daniil and a women’s champion named Danielle.

WHO’DA THUNK IT? Many of America’s top women fell early – Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Sofia Kenin – and Jessica Pegula was brushed aside by Ash Barty in the quarterfinals. Still, two Americans are into the semis, No. 30 Danielle Collins and No. 51 Madison Keys.

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF DANIELLE COLLINS: Early in her life, Danielle Collins continually suffered flu-like symptoms and often found herself falling down. Now, at the Australian Open, the Floridian has risen. Taking full advantage of a friendly draw, she scored impressive wins over Danish teen Clara Tauson, Belgian veteran Elise Mertens and France’s resurgent Alize Cornet. 

Not only has she reached her second Aussie Open semifinal in four years, she will become the No. 1 American. Against Cornet in the quarters, she prevailed in an 11-minute marathon first-set game, and took a 5-2 lead. But then she lost three games in a row before she again surged and won eight of the last nine games to score a 7-5, 6-1 runaway victory. 

Throughout the tourney Collins has displayed her intense, “C’mon, Dan!” feelings. Alize Cornet quipped, “I’m emotional – I’m full of fire – but she’s next level.” 

Speaking of next, Collins will face Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open Champion, in the semis. The Pole, seeded No. 7, downed Kaia Kanepi in three tight sets. One of the most consistent Slam performers of late, Swiatek beat Collins in their only meeting 6-2, 3-0 (retired). It will be interesting to see if Danielle can hit through the Pole.

A POLE DANCE AT THE BARTY PARTY? On many levels, this is completely illegal to write, and if you are under 18, please don’t read this. But, in anticipation of a possible Barty vs. Swiatek final, some have wondered whether there will be a lively pole dance that will ruin the Barty party?

HOW TO KILL A SPORT: The Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim contended that, “If you were authoring the handbook, ‘How to Kill a Sport,’” you should reference ESPN’s highly problematic scheduling of the Aussie Open. 

A TALE OF TWO TSITSIPASES: Since he failed to hold onto his two-set lead over Novak Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final, many have been critical of Stefanos Tsitsipas. Some claim his game has gone backward. John McEnroe said he should shorten his swing on the return of serve so he can more effectively block the ball into play. Alexander Zverev yelled in Cincinnati when the Greek left the court, possibly to get coached. Similarly, Andy Murray was livid in New York when Stef exited mid-match. The crowd booed. Mats Wilander said Tsitsipas’ ever-present father and coach Apostolos had to go. A fellow pro called Tsitsipas a boy.

Still, Stefanos keeps on rolling, notching one victory after another. He’s easy on the eye – people love his flow, his transition game, his sweeping groundies and his fleet athleticism. Unlike Agassi, Blake, Hewitt and Shapovalov, he hasn’t substantially shorn his flowing hair mid-career. After Stef downed Benoit Paire in four sets, he came back to win a five-set battle with the powerful Taylor Fritz. Wednesday in the quarterfinals he quickly dismissed the highly touted young Italian, Jannik Sinner, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, and upped his clutch record in Slam quarterfinals to 5-0. He’ll face Daniil Medvedev in the semis. The Russian has won six of their eight matches and the two have history.

GO FIGURE: Denis Shapovalov could have been defaulted when he told the ump, “You guys are all corrupt.”…Nadal’s epic five-set victory over Denis meant that one of the Big 3 has now been in 70 of the last 71 Grand Slam semis…Not only did a cloudburst catch Laver Arena with its roof open, there weren’t any blowers on hand to dry the court. So a cadre of ball persons with towels got down on their hands and knees and dried the place out. 

WHAT WOULD NOVAK DO? Post-match on-court interviews often are benign feel-good chats. And while on-court interviewer Jelena Dokic has recently been evoking tears, Daniil Medvedev has long been stirring controversy. In Madrid he told the crowd how good it was to beat Spaniards, and if they want him to lose, they shouldn’t boo him. After beating Nick Kyrgios, he complained that it wasn’t nice that the Aussie throng had howled between his first and second serves. After his incredible late-night 4:42 marathon quarterfinal win over Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jim Courier asked Daniil what went through his head when he was down by two sets. The Russian replied, “I told myself: What Novak would do?” His answer drew boos.

SOME END WITH A BANG, SOME WITH A WHIMPER: Sometimes match points are duds. The extraordinary battle of attrition between Danielle Collins and Elise Mertens ended anti-climatically when the Belgian double faulted. But on rare occasions, match points can be fabulous. Iga Swiatek used her sublime court awareness and fine defensive instincts to finish off Kaia Kanepi.

PENG SHUAI T-SHIRTS FREED: Peng Shuai t-shirts were at first deemed political, and weren’t allowed at the Aussie Open. Now the ban has been lifted. 

MARK HIS WORDS: British commentator Mark Petchy has been on a roll. Early on in the Djokovic saga, he offered one of the most succinct criticisms, saying, “Can’t believe the utter waste of time being spent on whether Novak is vaccinated…whether he will be in Australia or not. [This] makes the sport look so lightweight.” Then he made the seemingly outlandish prediction that Madison Keys, then No. 81, would win the Aussie Open. 

QUOTEBOOK

“Alize is a cool breeze.” – Australian Open TV on Alize Cornet, who was playing her sixty-third major

“Maddy is vibing out there.” – Jen Brady on Madison Keys 

THAT’S BARTY BATTING IN THE HALLWAY: On her day off before her semi against  Madison Keys, Ash Barty went up to bat and played some cricket. 

ASH ON A ROLL: Ash Barty has only lost 17 games in 10 sets. She’s been on court for only 5:04, lost just one service game and only faced 12 break points. Not surprisingly, she quipped, “I’m just having fun.”

PREACH NICK, PREACH: Nick Kyrgios loves to stir the milkshake. He confided, “As long as I am playing this sport and playing Australia, you shall have a show.” Speaking of tennis, he said, “I understand it’s a gentleman’s game but it is about time to embrace some kind of different energy.” John McEnroe sighed and said, “You’re preaching to the choir, ‘We need some personality?’ C’mon, was he the first guy to say that? But, clearly, if Nick gave as much energy to singles as he does to doubles, what a boost that would be to the game. I would love him to win the [doubles] tournament. Maybe that would inspire him.”

PUTTING A GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIP IN PERSPECTIVE: Alize Cornet reached her first major quarterfinal. After her loss to Danielle Collins she said, “I have eternal respect for the Grand Slam winner because it’s such a long way. My God, I have the feeling I’m playing this tournament for a year. I’m so exhausted mentally, physically. When you go all the way and win these freaking seven matches, it’s just huge.”

A WTA OMEN? En route to her first Grand Slam title, at the 2019 French Open, Barty beat Jessie Pegula, Amanda Anisimova and Madison Keys. In Melbourne, she’s already downed Anisimova and Pegula, and the American-slayer will face Keys in the semis. Still, some say that Madison, who is still undefeated in ‘22, might well power her way past No. 1 Barty.

AN ATP OMEN? In 2004, Russian Marat Safin reached the Australian Open final. The next year in a tight match, he saved a match point in the fourth set and went on to beat Roger Federer, who was born August 8th. 

With an uncanny similarity, another Russian, Daniil Medvedev, reached the 2021 Aussie final. This year, he saved a match point in the 4th set and went on to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was born August 8th. Marat went on to win the title. Will Daniil do the same?


TENNIS KARMA COMMENTARY: Jon Wertheim suggested, “If there is any karma in tennis, Juan Martin del Potro should be winning majors again.” Four times in his career, the Tower of Tandil has been off the circuit for at least eight months. He’s had eight surgeries and missed nine straight majors on two separate occasions. He’s now scheduled to make an eagerly awaited comeback in Rio and Buenos Aires in February.

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