Friday, February 19, 2016

Australian Open awards: Kerber pulls off major upset

Angelique Kerber exults after beating Karolina Pliskova in the
final of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last August.
Photo by Mal Taam
   Reflections on the 2016 Australian Open while wondering whatever happened to Karsten Braasch, the quirky German left-hander who wore glasses, had a weird service motion, smoked cigarettes during changeovers and defeated Serena Williams 6-1 and Venus Williams 6-2 in a "Battle of the Sexes" contest at the 1998 Australian Open when he was ranked No. 203:
   Biggest upset -- Speaking of German left-handers, seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber shocked jittery Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 for her first Grand Slam title.
   The 28-year-old Kerber, who lost in the first round of last year's Australian Open and survived a match point in the opening round this year, was playng in her first major final. She defeated Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic to win the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last August.
   Williams was attempting to tie Steffi Graf of -- yep, Germany -- for second place on the all-time list with 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court of Australia has 24.
   Biggest choke -- Williams, a three-time Bank of the West champion (2011, 2012 and 2014), gagged for the second straight Grand Slam tournament.
   Trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf in 1988, Williams lost to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci, playing in her first major semifinal at age 32, in the U.S. Open semifinals in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Novak Djokovic tied Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg with 11
Grand Slam singles titles. 2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Most underappreciated player -- Novak Djokovic is quietly climbing on the list of all-time greats. The 28-year-old Serb won his sixth Australian Open crown, matching Aussie Roy Emerson, and tied Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg for fifth place with 11 Grand Slam singles titles.
   Djokovic almost inevitably will top Emerson (12), likely will surpass Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal (14 each) and could challenge Roger Federer's record of 17. Nadal, who will turn 30 in June, hasn't won a Slam since the 2014 French Open but could add to his total.
   Best matches -- No. 30 seed Jeremy Chardy of France outlasted Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-5, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 13-11 in the first round.
   Daria Gavrilova, a Moscow-born Australian who won the doubles title in the 2014 Sacramento Challenger, upset No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 in the third round.
   Biggest breakthrough -- Zhang Shuai, a 27-year-old Chinese qualifier, was 0-14 in Grand Slam main draw matches and contemplating retirement when she stunned second-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round.
   Zhang advanced all the way to the quarterfinals before falling to rising star Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-1.
   Biggest flops -- Halep, apparently, was a physical basket case. An Australian Open quarterfinalist the previous two years, she withdrew from Brisbane two weeks before Melbourne with left Achilles' inflammation but advanced to
the Sydney semifinals the following week.
   Five days after losing to Zhang, Halep revealed that she had been struggling with nose, ear and stomach infections. She announced that she would have nose surgery and be out of action until March but later postponed the operation indefinitely.
    Meanwhile, the tailspins of two former No. 1 players continued with first-round losses.
   The fifth-seeded Nadal fell to 32-year-old Fernando Verdasco, the 2010 champion of the now defunct SAP Open in San Jose, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a 4-hour, 41-minute battle of Spanish left-handers.
   Caroline Wozniacki, seeded 16th, exited against 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Other than reaching the U.S. Open final for the second time in 2014, Wozniacki has not advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2012 Australian Open.
Lleyton Hewitt, a future Hall of Famer, retired one month
before his 35th birthday. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
    Most emotional match -- Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, a future Hall of Famer, ended his singles career with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 second-round loss to eighth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain under the lights at Rod Laver Arena.
   Afterward, video tributes to Hewitt from Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray were shown in the arena.
   "It was an unbelievable atmosphere out there," said Hewitt, who won the 2002 SAP Open and reached the 2006 final. "A couple of the roars during the match tonight were as loud as I've ever played in front of. I was getting goose bumps at times."
   Three days later, a third-round loss in men's doubles sent Hewitt into retirement exactly one month before his 35th birthday.
   The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Hewitt won three Grand Slam titles (two in singles and one in men's doubles) and played on two Davis Cup championship teams. He remains the youngest man to reach No. 1, at 20 years, 8 months in 2001. That's one month younger than Marat Safin of Russia in 2000.
    Best supporting actor -- A Murray won an Australian Open title, but not Andy.
   Seventh-seeded Jamie Murray, Andy's older brother, of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil triumphed in men's doubles in their first Grand Slam tournament together.
   Murray earned his first Grand Slam men's doubles title in his third straight major final.
Andy Murray reached his fifth Australian Open final under
difficult circumstances. He has lost all five. 2015 photo
by Paul Bauman
   Bridesmaid award -- Andy Murray dropped to 0-5 in Australian Open singles finals, a record for futility in a Slam.
   Most stressed-out player -- Andy Murray did well to reach the final while his wife, Kim, was back home in Great Britain awaiting the birth of their first child and her father and Ana Ivanovic's coach, Nigel Sears, collapsed during Ivanovic's third-round night match against Madison Keys.
   Sears was removed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. He flew home the next day and returned to the practice court with Ivanovic on Wednesday in Manchester, England. He said bad sushi caused his woes.
   Biggest downer -- Match-fixing allegations overshadowed the beginning of the tournament. The BBC and Buzzfeed News reported that tennis authorities had been warned about 16 players but failed to sanction them.
   Half of the players were entered in the Australian Open, according to the reports. All have been ranked in the top 50; none were identified.
  ATP chairman Chris Kermode denied the charges but later announced that an independent review of the tennis' anti-corruption unit would be commissioned to restore "public confidence in our sport."
   Worst-dressed -- Stan Wawrinka needs to add Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, the hosts of the 2003-13 television show "What Not to Wear," to his entourage.
   That coral and neon yellow number has got to go, pronto. Wawrinka won this award for a different outfit at last year's French Open, in which he earned his second Grand Slam singles title.
   Not crazy about Serena Williams' bright yellow two-piece get-up, either. Hey, Serena, you have more money than Donald Trump. You can afford a whole outfit, for crying out loud.
Serena Williams, shown after winning her third Bank
of the West Classic title at Stanford in 2014, seemed
almost as happy as Kerber during the Australian Open
awards ceremony. It helps when you've won 21 Slams.
Tri Nguyen/
   Best TV commercial -- That ESPN spot in which Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski asks a college kid to send former Blue Devil Justise Winslow of the Miami Heat a text message. "Sure, Bobby," the kid says to an oblivious Krzyzewski, as if confusing him with Bobby Knight.
   Krzyzewski thinks the student is relaying what he tells him, but the kid and Winslow actually are texting unrelated emojis back and forth.
   Most tiresome TV commercial -- Just as Wawrinka is monopolizing the worst-dressed award, Visit Melbourne is retiring this one. Last year, it was the "Forever Yours" jingle. This year, it was the "Far and Wide" poem.
  It's not that the commercials are bad. It's that they're aired every five minutes. I must have muted that thing 5,000 times during the tournament.
   As Jerry Seinfeld says on his hilarious "I'm Telling You for the Last Time" CD, "We all get it."
   Best quotes -- Kerber: "When I was match point down (in the first round), I actually had one leg in the plane back to Germany."
   Serena Williams, when someone suggested to her that she looked almost as happy as Kerber during the awards ceremony: "Really? I should get into acting."
   Andy Murray, while accepting the runner-up trophy: "I feel like I've been here before."

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