Friday, February 13, 2015

Australian Open awards: Tourney started fast

   Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams won the Australian Open, but there was still plenty of drama and intrigue during the two weeks ... er, fortnight.
   Following are 20 awards to recap the tournament: 
Thanasi Kokkinakis, shown in the 2013 Sacramento Chal-
lenger, saved four match points in a marathon victory
over 11th-seeded Ernests Gulbis in the opening round.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Best Matches -- Both occurred on Day 1, although there were many gems later.
   Thanasi Kokkinakis, an 18-year-old wild card from Australia, saved four match points in the fourth set of a 5-7, 6-0, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 8-6 victory over 11th-seeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia in front of a raucous crowd at night on Show Court 3. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Kokkinakis, ranked No. 147, needed 4 hours, 7 minutes to subdue Gulbis, a French Open semifinalist last year.
   Christina McHale of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., vomited on Court 15 and saved a match point in a 6-4, 1-6, 12-10 win over qualifier Stephanie ("Can't See The") Foretz of France. The third set lasted 1 hour, 51 minutes, and the match went 3 hours, 9 minutes.
   Biggest Upset -- Andreas Seppi of Italy shocked second-seeded Roger Federer, who has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (5) in the third round. Federer had reached the semifinals or better in the Australian Open for 11 straight years and had never lost to Seppi in 10 matches. 
   Biggest Comebacks -- Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old Australian, outlasted Seppi 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 8-6 in 3 hours, 34 minutes in the fourth round. Kyrgios survived a match point with a service winner at 5-6 in the fourth set of the night match in front of a boisterous capacity crowd of 10,500 at Hisense Arena.
   Maria Sharapova saved two match points in a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 second-round victory over fellow Russian Alexandra Panova, a qualifier ranked No. 150. Sharapova, the runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in the 2010 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, trailed by two service breaks at 4-1 in the third set.
   The night of the Sharapova match, Rafael Nadal overcame stomach cramps and dizziness to outlast qualifier Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5 in 4 hours, 12 minutes. Nadal missed almost three months after Wimbledon last year with a right wrist injury and had an appendectomy in November.
Madison Keys, practicing during the 2013 Bank of the
West Classic at Stanford, outslugged reigning Wimble-
don champion Petra Kvitova en route to her first Grand
Slam semifinal. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Breakout Performer -- Madison Keys, a 19-year-old American, outslugged fourth seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal. In the semis, Keys saved eighth match points before succumbing to Williams 7-6 (5), 6-2.
   Biggest Flop -- Former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, seeded fifth, lost to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round. Ivanovic finished in the top five last year for the first time since 2008.
   Biggest Collapse -- Andy Murray, who won his first career ATP World Tour title in San Jose in 2006 and repeated the following year, lost the last nine games of his 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0 loss to Novak Djokovic in the final. The first two sets lasted 2 hours, 32 minutes, and the last two took only 1 hour, 8 minutes.
   Linda Ronstadt "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" Award -- Murray fell to 0-4 in Australian Open finals. Then there's Nicolas Mahut, a 33-year-old Frenchman who fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam finals, both in men's doubles. Mahut also lost the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set, to John Isner in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010. 
   Winston Churchill Award (best speeches) -- Sharapova and Murray displayed admirable attitudes in their runner-up speeches. Sharapova was philosophical and Murray resolute.
   Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champion and a three-time runner-up in Melbourne: "I've had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of the toughest losses, but that's the life of a tennis player."
   Murray, who underwent "minor" back surgery in September 2013: " ... I'd also like to thank my team. We put in a lot of hard work to try and get back in this position after what was a difficult year last year and unfortunately couldn't quite do it tonight. But I'm a little bit closer than I was a few months ago, and I'll keep working hard to get there."  
   Most Spectacular Stroke -- Stan Wawrinka's sensational one-handed backhand.
   Best Shot -- "Tweeners" are one thing, but when was the last time you saw a behind-the-back volley? India's Leander Paes, a 41-year-old magician with a racket, flicked one to keep a long rally alive in the first set of his mixed doubles semifinal with Martina Hingis. They won the point on Paes' next shot and went on to capture the title.     
Tim Smyczek, playing in the Sacramento Challenger
last fall, won countless admirers around the world
with his display of sportsmanship against Rafael Nadal.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Mother Teresa Award (best sportsmanship) -- With Nadal serving at 6-5, 30-0 in the fifth set against Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check), a fan yelled something during the Spanish star's first delivery. The ball sailed way long, and Smyczek gave Nadal another first serve.
   Mind you, this was the biggest match of the 27-year-odl Smyczek's life.
   Kathy Griffin Award (most candid) -- Smyczek, on his loss to Nadal: "That was his C or D game, and he found a way to win. Hats off to him. That's why he's one of the best."
   John McEnroe Award (biggest meltdown) -- John Isner, seeded 19th, smashed his racket on the court not once but twice after falling behind two sets to none in his third-round match against Gilles Muller on a net-cord winner. Muller won in straight sets.
   Runners-up: Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios for smashing their rackets in their fourth-round matches. Dimitrov lost to Murray, but Kyrgios beat Seppi.  
   Liberace Award (flashiest appearance) -- Against Seppi, Kyrgios sported neon yellow shoes, a neon yellow and magenta shirt, black shorts and socks, a mini-Mohawk haircut with a "Z" cut in one side and two notches in an eyebrow, a giant earring and a gaudy necklace.
   By the way, what was it with all these bright colors, mainly yellow, the players wore? You can see these guys and gals from Mars. 
   Cary Grant Award (classiest appearance) -- If Kyrgios is Gene Simmons, Milos Raonic is Lawrence Welk. The clean-cut Canadian, 24, looks as if he just stepped off the set of "American Graffiti." Frankly, that's rather refreshing.
   Jim Courier Award (oddest changeover ritual) -- Raonic closed his eyes, chanted something, crossed his arms and tapped his knees with his fingers. Hey, whatever works. Courier read Armistead Maupin's novel "Maybe the Moon" during changeovers in the 1993 ATP Championships. 
   Worst On-court Interviewer -- Australian Todd Woodbridge may be an International Tennis Hall of Famer, but he can barely ask a question, much less a decent one. After Kygrios beat Seppi, Woodbridge just said, "Wow," and shoved the microphone in the winner's face. Woodbridge later instructed Kyrgios, "Take us through the match."
   Hey, Todd, would you ask a question please? Friendly suggestion: "How did you come back from two sets to none down?"
   Dumbest Question -- Pam Shriver, another Hall of Famer, is a good analyst. But her interview with McHale after the Foretz match was not one of her finer moments. Shriver actually asked McHale: "How does it feel to join Pete Sampras as a player to throw up on the court and win a Grand Slam match?"
   John Kerry Award (most diplomatic answer) -- McHale could have been forgiven for responding sarcastically to Shiver, "How do you think it felt? I always enjoy tossing my cookies in front of a crowd." Instead, McHale said matter of factly, "I would have preferred not to have thrown up on the court."
   Most Tiresome Commercial -- Take a wild guess. Hint: "Like a laneway leading to another world ... " First of all, what's a laneway? Is that Australian for "freeway"? Secondly, lord have mercy. Did we have to hear that Melbourne jingle every five minutes? For the second year in a row?
   Can we please retire this thing before we all lose what little is left of our sanity?

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