Remember how long the ‘God of cricket’ Sachin Tendulkar had to wait for his elusive 100th International hundred? A jinx similar to the Mumbai Bomber it seems has now hit reigning World number one American tennis player 34-year-old Serena Williams. Ever since people’s expectations and the immense pressure on her to finally match German legend Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams has grown she has wilted. And this time at the Australian Open 2016 .
Moreover, this is not the first time Serena in her chase for Graf’s record had faltered after being so near yet so far. In the 2015 US Open semi-finals an unknown Italian Roberta Vinci dashed her Grand Slam dreams.
Despite missing the action after the US Open 2015 due to injuries, Serena came into Australian Open 2016 in Melbourne as the overwhelming favourite for the women’s singles title and critics were unanimous about it. And quite like New York, Serena in Melbourne made her intentions quite clear. She meant business and was ruthless on court.
The 34-year-old American was playing sublime tennis. She had outclassed her rivals with her speed, strength power and stamina. Her game was the signature Serena – serving with power, covering the court with athleticism and hitting power ground strokes and winners from the baseline in both flanks that left her rivals bewildered.
She was hardly tested in the opening rounds as she did not drop a set till the finals. Though in between there was a talk that she might face a tough encounter in the quarter-finals against Russian tennis superstar and five time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova. Serena’s long time rival. But Serena showed yet again that the so-called rivalry with Maria was nothing but buzz when it came to court. She continued her awesome dominance and powered her way to her 18th win over the Russian tennis diva and thus literally making a mockery of the rivalry between the two. The score line of 6-4, 6-1 told the tale. In the first set though the match went on par with Sharapova even taking a lead but once Serena found the range of her shots and her booming serves, it was little the Russian could do except wilt to yet another loss to the American who was displaying tennis master class.
After Maria Sharapova, Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska faced the Serena fury in the semis as the American produced yet another brilliant display to rout her 6-0, 6-4.
As Serena reached another Grand Slam final. All eyes were now on the titanic clash between Serena against the unknown German seventh seed Angelique Kerber. The American held the psychological edge as she in the past played Kerber six times and had won five times. On the other hand Kerber earlier in the tournament, made heads turn as she proved her gritty attitude and battled from 2-5 down in the second set against Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in the quarter- finals. And if that was not all at one stage was on the brink of being knocked out of the tournament in the first round saving a match point against Misaki Doi. So, her dream run to finals and later on eventually winning is nothing but sensational. She had reportedly said she was “one leg in the plane for Germany,” at the time. Now she’s the first German woman to win the title since Graf in 1999.
In the finals, The 28-year–old German playing fearless tennis clinched the first set 6-4. Not to give up, Serena pulled one back winning the second at 3-6, But the gritty German hung on with determination and won her maiden Grand Slam Singles title clinching the final set 6-4 leaving the crowd and Serena in shock and awe. Kerber who idolises Steffi Graf became the first German to win a Grand Slam after 17 years.
If Serena defeat was a shocker. There was no surprises in the women’s doubles arena as top seeded pair of India’s Sania Mirza and Switzerland’s Martina Hingis in red-hot form powered their way to yet another fabulous win. The consistent duo won their third consecutive Grand Slam title and a record 36th consecutive match. The firm favourites for the title given their rampaging form beat Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka 7-6, 6-3 in the final. Sania and Martina are now just eight matches away from equalling the all-time record of 44 set by Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova in 1990. Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj in his Tweet expressed his admiration tweeting, “Wonderful win for Sania n Martina. 3 in a row. Brilliant. Keep it going. U can win the grand slam this year. All good wishes for more wins.[sic]”
Novy Kapadia, a seasoned sports commentator, while speaking to Tehelka aptly analyses what went wrong with Serena’s campaign and what makes Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis a formidable pair when he says : “ Yes she ( Serena) is feeling the pressure. Also age taking a toll on her as she has so many distractions her modelling career, fashion designing. So her focus is entirely not on tennis. As far as Sania and Martina is concerned, the secret of their success is experience and good temperament. Both can function well at the net and from backcourt. Hingis is good at the net and Mirza gives good strokes from back court. It was masterstroke by Mirza to concentrate on doubles instead of singles where she had too many injuries to cope with. Doubles in a way has enabled her to extend her career now”
While Serena upset in the final shook many fans, there was no such scenario whatsoever as World Number one and defending champion ‘Djoker’ Novak Djokovic proved yet again why he is simply the best. Djokovic was at his devastating best and crushed Andy Murray 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) to match Aussie legend Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open titles and leave Murray once again winless at Melbourne Park.
Under the lights at Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic gave no chance for Murray to dream of title outclassing the Brit in the baseline duels by hitting flawless winners from the back and wrapping up match in two hours and 53 minutes. For Murray it was his fifth loss in five Australian Open finals, and fourth against Djokovic, who now has 11th Grand slam titles under his belt and gets on par with icons Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg who both won 11 Grand Slam singles titles.
While his challengers Spaniard Rafel Nadal and Swiss Stan Wawrinka crashed out early, the path for Djokovic was relatively easy. The much talked about semis clash with Roger Federer was his biggest test. Federer had been in brilliant form and way he demolished Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarters with his lightening court coverage and sizzling one – hand backhands one expected something spectacular against Djokovic. But, the hype did not translate into action, Djokovic came out all guns firing and and won with consummate display with the score reading 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3 at the Rod Laver Arena ending Federer’s hopes of a 18th Grand Slam singles title. Federer’s fears of running into the player with the ‘fastest legs’ on ATP tour Djokovic really came true.
So in the end the Australian Open 2016 had a rather anti- climatic ending . While on the one hand Serb Novak Djokovic showed why he is such an invincible player these days with yet another Grand Slam win. The stunning loss of Serena Williams in the final surprised the ardent followers of the game . They too are unable to fathom as to what exactly has let Serena down in two back – back Grand Slams- The U S Open 2015 and now the Australian Open 2016. Is it pressure or simply the law of averages catching up? This is an answer only Serena Williams can tell as she makes a fresh quest for the 22 Grand Slam in the year ahead.