Clijsters' comeback, Djokovic's domination, more on Aussie Open
Once chided for lack of fight, Kim Clijsters has won three majors since fall 2011
Novak Djokovic played at a level that made it easy to forget about Roger and Rafa
Roger Federer is a contender until the day he retires but is no longer the favorite
Fans and Fanatics
Australian Open Faces
Top Tennis Tweeters
Flotsam and jetsam from the 2011 Australian Open.
It's what's starting to rank among the most successful comebacks in all of sports, Kim Clijsters wins the women's title, her third Major since the fall of 2009. Finally, some order is emerging from the WTA chaos. And to think: she was once a player chided for her absence of fight. This title was a testament to mental skills as well as peerless ballstriking. A few games from losing the final, Clijsters simply wouldn't succumb.
Talking about winning a Slam honestly. Novak Djokovic won the men's title, playing a level of tennis that made it easy to forget there were other two guys who were somehow ranked ahead of him. In the "business end" of the end he played six sets of tennis against Roger Federer and then Andy Murray and somehow made it look like an exhibition.
Some consolation for Murray: in the Open Era, three men have lost their first three Grand Slam finals. 1) Andre Agassi 2) Ivan Lendl 3) Goran Ivanisevic. More consolation for Murray: No one was beating Djokovic the way he played.
What a terrific event for Li Na, who reached the finals and was leading a set and 3-2 before the clock struck. She's almost 29, but may we see more of her in the years to come.
There will be no Rafa Slam, at least not this year, as he lost in the quarters after suffering a leg injury. His style of tennis and competitive philosophy lends itself to winning. It does not, sadly, lend itself to longevity.
Let's keep Roger Federer's loss in perspective. Is he in decline? Empirically, yes, especially given the ridiculously high standards he set for himself. It's not just that he hasn't won a Major in more than a year; he hasn't even reached a Major final. He can play terrifically in spots, but the consistency is fading, as is his ability to blow through seven straight matches. Is he done winning Slams? I don't know how you could say that. Barely two months ago, he sure looked like the Fed of old. How about this: He's a contender until the day he retires. He's no longer the favorite.
This is the dual version of the Federer semifinal streak, getting so much attention once it ends. But let's pause to reflect on the fact that since February of 2006, only three Majors have been claimed by players other than "Feder-al."
Does Caroline Wozniacki recall this tournament for her charm offensive and her winning press conferences? Or for failing in the semifinals, casting still more doubt on the legitimacy of her top ranking? Maybe defense doesn't win championships. In a three-set, three-hour match against Li Na, Wozniacki hit just 10 winners. There's a lot to like about her game. But it's hard to see a player so lacking in weaponry winning a Slam.
That said, what a fine tournament for the women, who, for the first time in years, may have provided the stronger narrative. First, the style of play was more variegated than normal. And from Li to Andrea Petkovic to Clijsters to Wozniacki, a number of players distinguished themselves on and off the court. If this is the post-Williams, post-Henin world, perhaps it's not so grim after all.
Neither David Ferrer nor Vera Zvonareva are likely ever to win a Major, undersized as they are and lacking in big shots. But if I'm a teaching pro or a junior coach I point to them as players to emulate. They do everything in their power to win, not least getting themselves in better shape than anyone in tennis. If the reward is a top-10 ranking, the odd Grand Slam semi appearance and a seven-figure salary, it's well-deserved.
The Bryans, Bob and Mike, won the doubles title. Enjoy these guys while you can. Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta won the women's.
The most dominant figure in tennis history, Esther Vergeeer, won the women's wheelchair event, taking the final 6-0, 6-0. When's the documentary?
A few months ago, I spent some time with Yao Ming in Houston, and I talked to a sports marketer who complained about the paucity of other Chinese athletes with "crossover" potential, that is, who have both the athletic chops and charisma to go global. Without further ado: A tattooed, acerbic, hilariously funny Chinese woman, so assertive she proposed to her husband and then mocks him (lovingly) at every chance -- who's also a top-five tennis player.
A moment of silence for the passing of Justine Henin's career. She retired last week -- this time, one strongly suspects, for good. Henin was a complex player, a complex person and -- Serena Williams notwithstanding -- perhaps the most influential WTA grandee of the last decade. Hall of Fame, here she comes.
We had a quite a Twitter war over this. (Note to Henin: do not question the passion of your fans.) But I still say it's in questionable taste to announce an unexpected retirement (a re-retirement, in this case) during the last few days of a Major. My son likes The Lighting Thief. This was Thunder Stealing. Then again, it was very much in keeping with her m.o. She did things her way, without much mind for convention or politesse. Wish her well in her next set.
There were no women from a "Slam-hosting country" in the round of 16. And the only two males were Andys, Murray and Roddick. Riches corrupt? Discuss.
Alex Dogopolov has this beguiling mix of flair and minimalism. A likeable kid with a likeable game. Now get him some media training, stat! He has the makings of a top tenner for years to come.