Wednesday, January 30, 2013
There’s a weird feeling nagging at me. The calendar says the Australian Open came and went, and I remember watching it (full disclosure: DVR is my capital B-estie) but nothing seems that different. No euphoria from an epic final (see last year) or a first-time major winner (see last year). Not even a sniff of a legend showing the young guns how’s it really done (see the 2012 “Serena Storm”). Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka entered the year and this tourney as world number ones and defending champions, and when the last ball was smacked they were left standing in the same spot they began. Wizards of Oz. Again.
Sure, a whole slew of drama filled out the middle. They both had to overcome tough moments that tested their champion’s mettle – an inexhaustible Nole eeking out a 12-10 fifth set win over Stanislas Wawrinka in a fourth round war and Vika fighting through a wonky rib and/or breathing problems and/or anxiety in her controversial semifinal win over a clearly over-awed Sloane Stephens and/AND a majority anti-Vika crowd in the final. But in the end, they defended their titles and remained the top ballers in the world.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling a bit trying to put the finishing touches on this fortnight in Melbourne. It doesn’t seem like anything was figured out. I suppose it just means this first Grand Slam of the year is a proper beginning…a true starting point…A LAUNCHING PAD! So, might this year be different than the last?
After Nole fell onto his back, exhausted and elated, after almost six hours battling Rafael Nadal, it was all about the “Nole Slam.” Would he become first man since Rod Laver to hold all 4 majors at once and the 8th man in tennis history to complete the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros? As we all know, Rafa exacted his revenge and ended that conversation. Although there were glimpses of that remarkable form, Nole was never really “Nole” again until the fall indoor season when he regained the top spot from Roger Federer and won the ATP World Tour Finals.
Vika went on a spectacular tear after claiming her first major and the top ranking in Melbourne, winning 26-straight matches until she was defeated by Marion Bartoli at the Sony Ericsson Open. From there, the Belarussian went into something of a slumber while Serena Williams took a stranglehold on Vika (going 0-5 against ReRe) and the rest of 2012. The 15-time Grand Slammer appeared primed to continue her domination in Oz, but a feisty Stephens and a turned ankle stopped her masterful run. When a door opens in tennis you better take it, and Vika did in the end.
"I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can," she said in her post-match presser. "It just motivates me to be a better player."
They were challenged and overcame. Now Nole and Vika are back where they began. But it’s different. Where they ended up may be the same, but something undoubtedly has changed. Adversity has a way of doing that. It’s like a full-circle moment except this one isn’t completed yet. Far from it. There’s still a whole season ahead of them, hungry foes to defeat, and a lot of work still left to do. Just ask Nole.
"You know, I'm just trying to embrace this moment and enjoy it as much as I can and see where tomorrow brings me."
[Photo(s) credit: AP, Getty]