Australian Open is still on my mind. That monstrous men’s final left scars. And, so did the women’s mini-final (relatively "mini"…I mean, hello?) but for entirely different reasons. On the surface, they don’t seem to have much in common. But if you look at how reigning top ballers Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka went about winning, you might change your mind:
1. The double-fisted backhand is, er, back. The forehand is still sexier but it’s the workman-like, double-fisted backhand that stole the spotlight in Oz. Nole and Vika’s backhands are their superior shots; they can go cross court and, ahem, down the line with ease. It pushed their opponents off the baseline (which is exactly where they want them to be) or forced shorts balls they were able to pummel.
2. Court positioning is key. Nole and Vika stalked the baseline, suffocating their opponents and making them feel like they had no where to put the ball…until they put it out of bounds or into the net. The Aussie Open champs are able to see the ball so early and take it on the rise, which gives them an advantage over, well, most of the ballers in the world.
3. Strike the right balance. It’s not enough to be awesomely aggressive or doggedly defensive. Ballers on both tours now need to do both consistently well. Vika was relentless in her pursuit of Maria Sharapova’s power groundies until she either took over the point or forced an error. “She created you know, she created offense from defense today, which is, you know, which is important and something that I think she's improved, definitely,” said Shrieka. Nole’s defense is other-worldly but it’s his offense that keeps Rafael Nadal frustrated.
5. Return to server. Their returns are simply devastating. Rafa said it best in his post-match presser: “Is something unbelievable how [Djokovic] returns, no? His return probably is one of the best of the history. That's my opinion, no? I never played against a player who's able to return like this. Almost every time.” Shrieka kept her sometimes nervy serve under control (she actually had one less DF than Vika) but couldn’t get the ball out of the Belarussian’s wheelhouse. As well all know, it was a recipe for DISASTER...or SUCCESS depending on who you ask.
[Photo(s) credit: Reuters]