Australian Open 2012 – Demigod Djoko defies Rafa, Azarenka flies the flag for the new generation

Another year and another classic opening Slam, I just hope that 2012 proves to be the first time in a while I am able to repeat my coverage of the Oz open to the other majors and premier tier events.

Novak Djokovic was simply superhuman in Melbourne

Sky Sports will certainly help with the ATP events.

Cutting to the chase then, it was another drama-filled fortnight down under. As with any sporting event taking place on the opposite end of the earth, there is that added level of excitement for us Brits, staying up into the early hours to watch the live action – the Ashes is another good example.

As usual my pre-tournament predictions were hopelessly inaccurate, my chosen ‘weak link’ of the top four in the men’s event, Rafael Nadal proved to be the fittest of them all, much to Roger Federer’s dismay. The pair’s semi-final and tenth Grand Slam meeting was another reminder for the Swiss that this new breed – when fully fit are just too athletic, elastic and consistent.

Novak Djokovic almost fell foul of Nadal’s power, but the Serb proved once again that he is made of sterner stuff, (indeed it may well be adamantium for all we know).

The victor’s incredible resolve in the final was matched only by his robotic mental strength. It is unnerving how strong Novak is mentally, even after a wayward opening set, he seemed so relaxed and confident in his own abilities that he remained the favourite until the inevitable tiredness took hold in the fifth.
Three years ago, it was the Serb’s physical stamina and mental game – not his talent or shot-making that was stopping his quest for major titles. Now he has the ‘awe effect’ that Federer possessed in his pomp of the mid 00s. Players step onto court with zero confidence of beating him, playing his aura as his athleticism.

This, and only this proved the difference on Sunday as Djokovic-1000 somehow found a 7th gear at 2-4 30-30 in the fifth to stun the Spaniard. Nadal looked crestfallen, not surprising as Djokovic’s record against him is beginning to echo his own against Federer.

She may have to supress the shouting, but
Azarenka is a worthy champion and will be a fine ambassador
Of the women’s champion, well Azarenka looked in super form in the early tournaments, and she is more experienced and relaxed on court than Kvitova. Sharapova, like Federer is already looking like a player from another generation, will she ever win a Slam again with these younger players around who play her game but better and with even more power?

Clijsters therefore, was never likely to defend her title, despite her undoubted power, it never did and never will be delivered with such ruthless consistency over the course of a match let alone a whole tournament. Yet after her own injury scares she should be satisfied with reaching the last four, taking out Wozniacki en route.

Serena, despite her poor Open can never be counted out for future titles – she will always have the awe factor until she retires. Despite the obvious fitness concern, it is her temperament and willingness to accept the new breed that stands in her way of success.

Back to Azarenka the new world number one (the first apart from Serena or Clijsters to hold a major title to her name since Ivanovic in 2008), who showed a typically fearless display in her match against Sharapova, the scoreline was flattering yes, but the result was no surprise. Like Wozniacki, she will be a fine ambassador for the game, how long could she hold on to the top spot? If this form continues, many a month, and many a major will follow.

Having ranted enough about the ‘grunting’ in the women’s game of which these two have led the way, well my opinions are well documented and wont be repeated here. If the issue does get looked at further by the WTA, it will be interesting to see what role Azarenka could play.

Finally a small shout out to two faves of mine – Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonarva winners of the Ladies Doubles. After poor runs in the singles the team who haven’t paired up since RG 2011 showed their class.

Images courtesy of BBC Sport.

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