What Makes Coco Tick?

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Bill Simons

TEQUILA SUNSET: The magical Adrian Mannarino was asked what’s been the key to his late career surge. The Frenchman replied, “I took up tequila.”….As she was leaving her match, American Emma Navarro took a swig of a fan’s beer…This year the Aussie Open debuted its Party Court, that features a massive, two-story, 400′ bar…Much of the Aussie Open media lifted their glasses Friday in a happy hour salute to their colleague Mike Dickson, who passed in Melbourne earlier this week.

COCO’S GROWING UP IN FRONT OF OUR EYES: Some WTA players are sweet innocents. Others are snarky and complain about all “the shit” the press writes about them. The great thing about Coco Gauff is that she’s not only incredibly articulate, she’s just so very real. Not only can she be silly, self-correcting and giggle like a typical teen, she can also go deep and be reflective.

When ESPN’s Chris McKendry asked the almost-20-year-old, “How do you feel, now that you’re leaving your teens?” Coco sighed, saying, “I’m feeling I’m getting old…[It’s like] now, OK, I have to get my crap together. There’s going to be a point when I have to move out [of my parent’s house] and become a real adult. But my parents are always going to be my backbone. Twenty sounds like a big-girl age.”

The Floridian, who’s through to the fourth round, added,  “I need to live more in real life, and not online.”

LIKE A ROOM TAX OR ATHLETE’S FOOT: While writing an homage to his late colleague Mike Dickson, who died in Melbourne, the Telegraph’s Simon Briggs suggested that, “For the most part, journalists are a tangential part of a giant operation such as the Australian Open. We ask a few questions and scribble a few lines. Players and administrators view us as a minor irritant, like room tax or athlete’s foot.”

THE NEW SHARAPOVA? In 2004, a lean, personable and beautiful Russian teen, who spoke flawless English and had a fierce game but was sweet off court, took the world by storm when she won Wimbledon. Maria Sharapova went on to become No. 1 and win five Slams. 

Already some are wondering, can another slim, talented Russian blonde, who battles intensely but is appealing in her interviews, approach Sharapova’s record? Mirra Andreeva scored an incredible comeback win over Diane Parry Friday, and is into the fourth round of a Slam for the second time. She’s just 16. Of course she could fall in love with a ball boy and we might never see her again. On the other hand, she’s drawing gasps from many an observer, and already we’re wondering how many majors this very special talent could win.

MIRRA’S MURRAY CRUSH: The saga of Andreeva’s crush on Andy Murray, that began last year in Madrid, continues. The Brit sent her another supportive message, and she said that she’s going to have it framed. Then she confided, “If I meet him, I’ll forget how to speak English – I’ll forget how to speak Russian!”

DOES TENNIS NEED A BEDTIME? Many are perplexed about the late-night matches that have long plagued tennis. Some wonder whether the sport is losing its global audience. One dreamer on Twitter suggested that play start at 9 AM. Lindsay Davenport was succinct, saying, “This has got to stop!” The Australian Open Show went into more detail and offered an array of remedies: no warm-ups, four-game sets, no-ad scoring, no changeovers until the third game, shot clocks that automatically start after a point is finished and, of course,  

SUCKING THE JOY OUT OF PLAYERS? After a slew of long matches on Thursday, there were many blowouts on Friday, including Aryna Sabalenka’s 6-0, 6-0 win over No. 29 seed Lesia Tsurenko. Paul Annacone aptly noted, “So much for low-carb diets. In Melbourne there’ve been lots of bagels.” BTW: In three matches, the imposing Sabalenka has only lost six games. She’s been pounding her foes. Andrea Petkovic jokingly asked the defending champion, “Is that fun for you? Sucking the joy out of other tennis players?”  

FEEL-GOOD AMERICAN STORIES: Although he’s destroying his shoes, Taylor Fritz is coming from behind, battling hard and winning. Coco Gauff has been focused, athletic and impressive. Alex Michelsen, who next plays Alexander Zverev, is making a statement. But there’s been no better American feel-good story than Amanda Anisimova’s. After an eight-month break from the tour in order to regain a measure of calm, the 22-year-old has been on fire in Melbourne. She downed the considerable Paula Badosa to reach the fourth round, where she’ll meet Sabalenka. She’s won four of their five matches. 

MILLMAN’S LAST HURRAH: Only once was maestro Roger Federer reduced to saying, “I couldn’t get air.…I just kept on sweating. At some point I was just happy that the match was over.” It happened one night at the 2018 US Open when Aussie John Millman shocked Federer. But it wasn’t always easy for Millman, whose highest ranking was No. 33. In his 13-year career, he only once reached the third round of a Slam. John once described playing against Rafa: “It’s relentless abuse. It’s like a boxing match where you’re getting hit again and again.” 

Now, after losing in doubles, the Aussie has retired. It’s hard to know whether we’ll remember this good mate as one of the more patriotic Aussies to ever play the game, a splendid journeyman or an incredible upset artist who specialized in sparking “Mill-mania” on Melbourne’s outer courts. Friday he told the crowd, “I was never the most talented – but I gave it a crack.”

THE FEDERER EFFECT: Speaking of Roger Federer, Simon Cambers has written a wonderful book, “The Roger Federer Effect”. Its title brings to mind the reality that so many in tennis have been affected by the Swiss icon, and like to share their Federer stories.

Nick Kyrgios recalled how he came off the court after losing to Roger and his mom asked him, “Why did you keep hitting the ball at him?” Kyrgios sighed and replied, “Mom, it’s not that easy.”

Holger Rune spoke about having Severin Luthi, Federer’s former trainer, with him in Melbourne. The Dane explained, “Roger was my childhood idol. It’s great to have something from him in my box.”

CHRISSIE, MARTINA AND McENROE SPEAK OUT: John McEnroe again spoke out on tennis’ growing involvement with Saudi Arabia, saying, “It appears they’re not treating women with the type of respect that you see in our countries…I personally don’t agree with it…Then I just saw Rafa is an ambassador. There’s a saying – and I believe it is, ‘Money talks.'”

Sports Illustrated shared this letter that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova sent to WTA Chief Steve Simon and the WTA:

Dear Steve and all members of WTA Board, WTA Ventures Board and Tournament and Player Councils:

In light of the WTA Finals potentially being moved to Saudi Arabia, we feel it is essential to speak up…We fully appreciate the importance of respecting diverse cultures and religions. It is because of this, and not in spite of it, that we believe allowing Saudi Arabia to host the WTA finals is entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis…The WTA was founded on fairness and equality to empower women in a male dominated world…The WTA should represent values which sit in stark contrast to those of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Not only is this a country where women are not seen as equal, it is a country which criminalizes the LGBTQ community. A country whose long term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades. Taking the WTA finals to Saudi Arabia would represent taking a significant step backwards, to the detriment of the WTA, women’s sports and women.

Respectfully,
Martina Navratilova / Chrissie Evert

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TSITSIPAS TAPS INTO HIS INNER JIMMY CONNORS: Stefanos Tsitsipas has hit the two most astounding shots of the Aussie Open. In the first round, he stretched far over the net to flick a wicked, sharply angled forehand, and then he called on all his balletic skills to somehow avoid hitting the net. Friday, against Luca Van Assche, he tapped into his inner Jimmy Connors, adeptly retrieving four overheads, then unleashing a forehand that induced a Van Assche volley error. Tsitsipas’s incredible shots brought to mind one of the most celebrated defensive sequences in tennis history, Connors’s mind-boggling US Open retrievals against the eventually hapless Dutchman, Paul Haarhuis, in 1991.  

POTHOLES IN THE AMERICAN ROAD: The usual winnowing of America’s best prospects at Slams is again happening. Jessica Pegula, Frances Tiafoe and Christopher Eubanks made only modest runs. No. 29 seed Seb Korda fell in straight sets to the No. 5 seed Russian Andrey Rublev. After 4:46, Ben Shelton lost to France’s crafty left-hander, Adrian Mannarino (who we feel is the best bald player in the world). Veteran Sloane Stephens scored fine victories and young Emma Navarro had been a quiet revelation. But then they both lost in the third round. And last year’s semifinalist, Tommy Paul had two fourth set match points against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, but then imploded and suffered a dismal 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-0 loss. Ouch.

CRAZY, INSANE AND AMAZING: Chris Evert said the 42-point tiebreak between Anna Blinkova and Elina Rybakina was “the best women’s tiebreak I’ve ever seen in tennis.” John McEnroe called it insane, unbelievable and amazing.

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: After Barbora Krejcikova downed Aussie Storm Hunter, one headline read, “Krejcikova Weathers the Storm.”

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