FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE FOUR GRAND SLAMS IN 2011
Tennis for many fans is about the four Grand Slams. I know quite a lot of people who watch tennis only when the Grand Slams are going on. The four Slams, the Australian Open in January, the French Open in May-June, the Wimbledon in June-July and the US Open in August-September, are indeed the highest form of tennis. I must confess that though I follow tennis regularly, particularly when my favorite players are playing, the only time I spend hours watching live tennis matches and then some more highlights, is during the four Grand Slams. The four Grand Slams are momentous occasions for any tennis player or follower. Each one of them contains two weeks of competitive, entertaining tennis on different surfaces. It is the litmus test of a good player, to adjust to the different surfaces and mold their game accordingly. To the uninitiated, they are like the World Cup of tennis, just that they occur four times every year, unlike other sports where it is the other way around.
All four Grand Slams for this year are done and dusted with, yet some lingering thoughts remain. 2011 has probably seen some of the most closely-fought, some of the most entertaining and some of the most unexpected matches in the four Slams, at least since the time I have started following tennis. This year we saw at all at the Grand Slams - new and unexpected faces lifting the trophies, matches that swung both ways till almost the last game of the last set, increasingly fierce rivalries, and the emergence of one dominating force.
Following are the four things we learned from the four Grand Slams of 2011.
1. WOMAN’S TENNIS - THE MORE THE COMPETITION, THE MORE THE SCOPE
Gone are the days when the Willams sisters, the eastern European players dominated the Champions Board at the Grand Slams. 2011 saw a different Champion in Woman's Singles at each of the Grand Slams. Of the four, three women had won a Grand Slam for the first time. Kim Clijters won her first Australian Open title at the start of the year defeating Li Na in the finals. But Li Na got her Trophy and her moment in history at the prestigious Rolland Garros when she won the French Open, her first Grand Slam title, becoming the first Asian to win a Grand Slam Singles title. At the following Wimbledon, Petra Kvitova, a Czech player, became the dark horse who toppled the top seeds to win her first Grand Slam when she defeated Maria Sharapova. 21-year old Kvitova is the only Slam winner to be born in the 1990's. At the US Open, the year's final Slam, Samantha Stosur who has won Doubles Titles before, won her first Single's Titles defeating crowd favorite Serena Williams. This is a good sign for woman's tennis, the more the competition, the more the scope for players to come up.
2. ROGER FEDERER IS NEARING THE 'PAST-HIS-PRIME' STAGE
2011 was the first year since 2002 that Roger Federer failed to win a single Grand Slam title. For the past eight years, he has been the player to beat at every Slam, but this year he was unable to even reach the finals, except at the French Open. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Federer, a dedicated devotee, and I am in no way writing him off or asking him to retire. But having watched all four of the matches in which he was knocked out, I have to say that fortune is not favoring him at this time. Federer touched the 30-year mark in August this year and critics sharpened their knives with the usual he-is-too-old-to-win. I disagree. If you have watched any of the four Grand Slam matches which he lost, you will know that age had nothing to do with it. Defending Champion Federer lost in the Australian Open semis to Djokovic 7-6 7-5 6-4, one of his off days where he could not capitalize on the starts he got. In the French Open, he ended Djokovic's golden run becoming the first player to defeat him in the year, playing with such mastery that we almost forgot it was a clay court. But in the finals he once again gave way to arch-nemesis Rafael Nadal. At the Wimbledon he had one of the worst days of his tennis career while playing his quarter-finals match against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Federer was two sets up and well on his way to victory when Tsonga made a spirited comeback to first stretch him to five sets and then defeat him. The detractors had all but sounded the death knell for his career. Then came the US semi-final vs. Djokovic, a match which people will sadly remember as Federer losing being two sets and later two match points up, he played the best tennis of this year. This is the match which finally made a tiny part of me believe that Federer is nearing the 'past-his-prime' stage. But I will be more than glad to be proven wrong by him in 2012.
3. ANDY MURRAY – ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID, NEVER A BRIDE
World No 4 Andy Murray has always been known as the choker, and in 2011 he didn’t disappoint. Once again Murray failed to win any Grand Slam despite making it to the finals on one occasion. At the Australian Open, he was going good defeating Ferrer to reach the finals but lost in a convincing fashion to Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 3-6, 2-6. In all the remaining three Grand Slams, he had the misfortune of running into Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Needless to say that Nadal got the better of him every single time. Murray learned two things this year – he cannot win a Grand Slam (which we already know) and that as long as Nadal meets him in a semi-final, he can never make it to a final. BUT this rule applies only to a Grand Sla, because in other tournaments, Murray performed relatively well, even defeating Novak Djokovic at Cincinnati. So it is only fair to say that Andy Murray fails to make it large on a larger stage. Almost like the “always the bridesmaid, never a bride syndrome.”
4. 2011 – THE YEAR OF THE DJOKER
Novak Djokovic has had more than a golden run this year, in fact there is no phrase that can describe the kind of form he has been in. Of all the matches Djokovic has played in 2011, he has lost just 3 while winning a whooping 64! Surprisingly, 2 out of the 3 matches he lost this year, was because of him pulling out midway due to injury. So the only man to defeat Novak Djokovic was Roger Federer when he outclassed him in the French Open semis. Incidentally, French Open is the only Major Trophy he was unable to win this year, with all the other three Slams already in his kitty. Grand Slam Men’s Singles Finals were more than a little repetitive this year with Djokovic vs. Nadal at Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open. Needless to say that the Djoker emerged victorious in all three encounters. He is only the sixth player in the Open Era to win 3 Majors in the same year. Djokovic’s dominance over 2011 tennis season was so absolute that even Pete Sampras went on to say that this was the best season he has seen in his lifetime. I would say that the last time a single tennis player had such an illustrious season was back in 1988 when Steffi Graf completed a Calendar Golden Slam winning all four Grand Slams plus an Olympic Gold. 2011 was indeed the year of the Djoker!