Can Serena Williams defend her Australian Open title? Can Jelena survive another 22 game third set?
While Serena Williams was obliterating Jarmila Gajdasova in her first round match at the Australian Open today, I wondered if Serena is in the proper state of mind to defend her title.
Serena can’t sneak into town this year and run off with a title like she did last year. She’d been missing for most of two previous years and her opponents no doubt relaxed just the slightest bit. This year they’ll know better.
How is she emotionally? While her sister Venus recently got engaged to her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne, Serena is working through a breakup with her boyfriend, Jackie Long. All you have to do is read a few sentences of this very personal blog Serena posted about the breakup to see the pain she felt. The timing of her sister’s engagement must have some sting to it.
Physically Serena should be happy because she played all four slams last year and did no worse than the quarterfinals. On the other hand, she suffered injuries at critical times. She injured her calf at Wimbledon and reinjured her surgically repaired knee at the year end championships. At least she made it to the year end championships. That’s a victory in itself.
All things considered, Serena is in pretty good shape but that will not be enough to defend her title. Justine Henin skipped the Australian Open last year to deal with her divorce and Serena’s three quarterfinal losses last year were all to the same player: Justine.
Here’s the main reason to push the Australian Open back to the end of February: nobody is in match shape, people. If you’re a French player and you live in Switzerland to avoid the high French taxes, you can run up and down mountains all day long, it doesn’t matter, you still won’t be match tough by the third week of the season.
Look at the opening round match between Jelena Jankovic and Tamara Paszek. After splitting the first two sets, they got to 5-5 in the third set and both players forgot how to hold serve.
Nine straight breaks of serve followed. Yes, nine. Paszek served for the match five times unsuccessfully. It’s not that there weren’t some great points, there were. Jankovic hit a beautiful stretch volley for a winner after a protracted rally featuring sharply angled shots that pulled both players off the court. That shot ended Paszek’s third attempt at serving for the match.
But for each of those points, there were two gimmes hit into the net or beyond the baseline. And neither player could serve anymore. Jankovic hit 14 double faults in the match and Paszek served five straight faults at one point. Jankovic also needed two injury timeouts for lower back pain that was visibly bothering her.
They were like two drunken sailors throwing punches at each and missing badly. Here’s the next suggestion for the Australians: join the 21st century, use a third set tiebreaker. It’s not tennis after awhile, it’s survival.
Jankovic managed to find a way to win the match, 2-6, 6-2, 12-10. She deserves a lot of credit for that but it’s not clear how long her body can last. She retired three times during Hopman Cup matches and now she’s injured her back.
Jankovic’s fellow Serbian, Ana Ivanovic, passed Jankovic in the standings last week and moved into the number three spot. Jankovic has repeatedly said that she plays tennis for one reason only: to reach the number one ranking. I think her shot at that may have passed, especially as Maria Sharapova seems to be healthy again.
If I’m right and Jankovic does slide down the rankings to no better than fifth or sixth, I’ll be interested to see how long she sticks around.