Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Velvet Revolution

Rainer Schuettler. Martin Verkerk. Mariano Puerta. Gaston Gaudio.

We won't know for some time if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's name will be added to the list of recent slam finalists who shined brightly for two weeks only to come up short most every week in the months that followed.

We do know that Novak Djokovic won't be anywhere near that list, though.

Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Try as one might, there was no getting past the face that THE moment of this Australian Open was the dual upsets of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the semifinals by Djokovic and Tsonga. Still, King Roger-conqueror Djokovic entered the final as the favorite, with Tsonga looking to recapture the remarkable form he'd shown against Rafa. The Frenchman had his moments, but the Serb had tread upon similar grand slam final ground before and knew precisely how to advance his cause.

Djokovic's 4-6/6-4/6-3/7-6 victory was hardly an easy battle won, but it did bear some resemblance to a fait accompli. After dropping the opening set with a final game break of serve by Tsonga, a defiant Djokovic stared down the stormy atmosphere that threatened to envelope him, breaking the 22-year old in the seventh game of the 2nd set and then steadily steering the match to his favored conclusion.

If Tsonga has been able to win the 4th set tie-break it would have resulted in the first Oz Men's final to go to five sets in twenty years, but Djokovic raced to a 5-1 lead to put to rest any thought of his ascent to a power position on the ATP tour being delayed any longer.

The Serb, with four consecutive SF-or-better slam results and back-to-back slam finals, thus becomes the first of his countrymen or women to lift a slam singles trophy with his victory over the masses... err, I mean Tsonga. No matter how talented Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic may be, this "first" arrived precisely in the order in which it was expected.

We often anticipate the "official" coronation of a new champion to be accompanied by fanfare and ticker tape parades (and the real thing may actually occur back in Serbia), replete with a classic struggle that ends with a burst of relief and jubilation. As it turned out, the inauguration of tennis' newest royalty was a somewhat methodical affair in which the crowd steadfastly stood largely against the Serbian Prince-Who-Would-Be-King who's been diligently planning his future reign since adolescence. Rather than cheers for the "new benevolent leader," the loudest voices were in support of the exciting upstart with the looks of a young Cassius Clay (even the Prince's family was hovered over by a row of face-painted French fans directly behind them).

Philistines. He'll make them pay one day.

The third-youngest Oz champ in the Open Era, has 20-year old Djokovic now started something that will only grow exponentially from here on out? Is this the first step in the Prince becoming the future King?

Well, I said at the start of the season that Djokovic would win his first slam in 2008, but I really thought it would come in New York. Actually, I still think that he's a good bet to win there, where he'll likely enjoy an atmosphere that will stand in stark contrast to his lack of support in Melbourne. Memories of Novak the Entertainer on Ashe Stadium court last September won't likely be fading anytime soon, after all. So could the Serb claim HALF the slams this season? Maybe.

It could be that Oz will be HIS in spirit next time out, too. An example of Djokovic's velvety transition into a position of power was evident in the way he smoothly diffused the crowd issue... telling everyone during the post-match ceremony not to worry, "I still love you."

He'll make them pay one day, all right... but he'll do it with a smile, charming them all the way to the throne.

Sania Mirza played with an injured leg, but she and partner Mahesh Bhupathi still managed to give Sun Tiantian & Nenad Zimonjic a good effort in the Mixed Doubles final. Sun & Zimonjic won the match 7-6/6-4, giving Serbia's Zimonjic his third career Mixed Doubles title and China's Sun her first ever slam championship of any kind.

14...Roger Federer (12-2)
5....Rafael Nadal (3-2)
4....Marat Safin (2-2)
4....Lleyton Hewitt (2-2)
4....Andy Roddick (1-3)
3....Juan Carlos Ferrero (1-2)
2....Novak Djokovic (1-1)
2....Carlos Moya (1-1)
2....Mark Philippoussis (0-2)
1....Thomas Johansson (1-0)
1....Gaston Gaudio (1-0)
1....Marcos Baghdatis (0-1)
1....Arnaud Clement (0-1)
1....Fernando Gonzalez (0-1)
1....Guillermo Coria (0-1)
1....David Nalbandian (0-1)
1....Rainer Schuettler (0-1)
1....Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0-1)

2000 Rennae Stubbs & Jared Palmer
2001 Corina Morariu & Ellis Ferreira
2002 Daniela Hantuchova & Kevin Ullyett
2003 Martina Navratilova & Leander Paes
2004 Elena Bovina & Nenad Zimonjic
2005 Samantha Stosur & Scott Draper
2006 Martina Hingis & Mahesh Bhupathi
2007 Elena Likhovtseva & Daniel Nestor
2008 Sun Tiantian & Nenad Zimonjic

Maria Sharapova, RUS
Novak Djokovic, SRB
Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR/UKR
Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram, ISR/ISR
Sun Tiantian/Nenad Zimonjic, CHN/SRB
Arantxa Rus, NED
Bernard Tomic, AUS
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Ksenia Lykina, RUS/RUS
Hsieh Cheng-Peng/Yang Tsung-Hua, TPE/TPE

TOP QUALIFIER: Julia Schruff / GER
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st - Jankovic def. Paszek 2-6/6-2/12-10
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - Sharapova def. Henin 6-4/6-0
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): SF - Ivanovic def. Hantuchova 0-6/6-3/6-4
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Julia Vakulenko / UKR (1st Rd.-Vesnina)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Marta Domachowska / POL & Hsieh Su-Wei / TPE (4th Rd.)
IT GIRL: Casey Dellacqua / AUS
MISS OPPORTUNITY: Daniela Hantuchova / SVK
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Jelena Jankovic / SRB (1st Rd.- down 3 MP to Paszek)
CRASH & BURN: #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova / RUS (3rd Rd.- A.Radwanska)
DOUBLES STARS: Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko / UKR
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Jessica Moore / AUS & Arantxa Rus / NED

All for now.

NEXT: Dorothy Tour Awards
THIS WEEK: For Whom the Book Tolls 2008


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