Melbourne momentum shift – 2014 Australian Open review

Good for the game – Both Champion’s have thrust themselves into
contention for more success this year

Strewth! What a fortnight! The Australian Open has rarely disappointed when it comes to drama and a shock result or two. The new season has barely begun of course leaving no room for any real momentum or form-guide.
But the 2014 season has, thankfully begun with more questions and ‘what if’s’ instead of any foreseeable trends or prospects of total domination from any one player.
Last year’s Wimbledon at first glance appeared a similar story albeit arriving halfway through a season where Serena still looked serene and the Big Four soon became an even more impregnable Big Three on the mens side of things.
In hindsight, those shocks at SW19 – and there were plenty in the first three days alone remember – don’t appear to have affected both tour’s landscapes. Come the U.S Open two months later it was the familiar faces competing for the biggest spoils.
No, this major, whilst comparable to last summer with it’s crowning of two new faces; Li , already a slam victor echoing Murray whilst first-timer Stan’s result chimes more so with Bartoli’s shock win represents something more concrete for 2014.  
There is much to look forward to for the season in both tours; will Li Na push on from this second major title and become the player to really rattle Serena and to an extent Vika? Will Dominika Cibulkova’s inspiring run to the final, bulldozing the established names en route prove more than just the one-year flash in the pan that is so often born from the ‘Happy Slam’?
It’s a tough call of course, we’ve seen time and time again how – when the doubts start to surround her, Serena simply trounces everyone for the loss of four matches all season, for the sake of the game let’s hope this isn’t the case in 2014.
Similarly, let us hope that Williams doesn’t fade away too much, the sad decline of her sister – albeit through injury and illness has deprived the game of one of it’s greats a little too soon.
Of the men we have of course seen the biggest shake-up since Del-Potro snatched that U.S Open title in 2009. No more will the Argentine’s solitary victory stand alone amidst the monopoly of majors enjoyed by the Big Four since 2005.
In Wawrinka – like Cibulkova – we have a player who has threatened to produce such world-beating form, but never as consistently. But since the 28 year old Swiss gave Djokovic one almighty scare in Melbourne twelve months ago the fire and self-belief has been cranked up to 11 and Stan entered the form of his life but consistently so.
With Del-Potro there or thereabouts, it was Berdych who – until now – had looked the man to really rattle Rafa and co – Tsonga you feel has sadly run out of time. But whilst the Czech has the consistency that the Wawrinka of old had lacked, his mental strength faltered and tiny mistakes are made.
This was never clearer than against Wawrinka in that tight semi-final last week.
Wawrinka now has that all-important confidence coupled with an undeniable talent to upset the apple cart – after all the rankings do not lie and the new world number three an Swiss number one has – for now at least blown the Big Three wide open.
Li Na def Dominika Cibulkova 7-6, 6-0
Australia is guilty of producing some dud finals in the women’s competition, strange topsy turvy affairs where momentum swings not from point to point but set to set.
In short it is a bit of a bagel and breadstick fest.
Yes there was more baked goods this year but thankfully via awe-inspiring winners from a player who suddenly couldn’t miss.
Li Na – a two time finalist here – had a gutsy tournament, yes she never had to face the top seeds, but nothing comes easy on the women’s tour.
A tight first set was a mixed bag – some quality and attractive tennis combining power, precision and tactical nous was all too often sandwiched between nervy and uneven passages of play.
In the end, experience and simply hitting freely proved decisive for Li who powered through the first set tiebreak and then the second set in a flash. Her opponent who had proven an almighty seedkiller throughout the fortnight had run out of steam and simply had no answer.
Both have hit the early form and impetus to go on and have a stellar 2014 – Li has the game and now the knowledge of handling a major victory to hit the very top.
Stanislas Wawrinka def Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2,  3-6, 6-3
I will not say much more about this incredible result than has been waxed lyrically elsewhere. In short, it is the shot in the arm that the men’s tour so badly needed and there are few players more likeable to have delivered it. After re-watching that first set (I’m ashamed to admit that I was fast asleep for the first seven games) I have every reason to believe that Wawrinka is more than just a one-slam wonder. Poor Nadal revealed that he felt the back go during the warm-up but still looked near-enough to his best in that opening set to give real relevance to Stan’s performance.
In the end, the Rafa the world knows and loves (except perhaps a certain Mr Federer) never again appeared but there was still so much for the Swiss to deal with and conquer.
Via some breathtaking, balletic backhand winners the 8th seed and first man to defeat both Rafa and Novak at a major produced a fairytale story to rival Andy’s SW19 cakewalk.
Australian Open 2014 Heroes
Dominika Cibulkova – The first Slovak to reach a major final had a blinder of a tournament. At last delivering on the promise shown and joining the stars of her generation at the summit.
Li Na – A real statement of intent for a player who clearly has the game to rival the rest which suffocated under the weight of a nation’s expectations following her first major in Paris.
Rafael Nadal – Such heroism in that final and if not for that injury a very likely 14th major title. Instead questions rise again over the toils on the Spaniards body, blisters and back spasms now added to the knees.
Stanislas Wawrinka – He may have enjoyed a walkover or two and a handicapped matador in the final, but such are all the other obstacles of a maiden slam win coupled with the stupendous shotmaking and Stan has much to savour in 2014.
Eugenie Bouchard – Like Cibulkova this was a maturing fortnight for a bright star of the future who can use this breakthrough to really set up camp in the top ten.
Roger Federer – Nadal clearly still has the measure of the Swiss and more, but Roger showed some inspiring and beautifully old-school wizardry that should ensure another year mixing it with the players his dominance produced.
Other notables
Ana Ivanovic
Grigor Dimitrov
Agnieska Radwanska
Australian Open 2014 Zeroes
Novak Djokovic
Serena Williams
Maria Sharapova
Pics courtesy of Official AusOpen site

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