The 2018 season kicked off with a bang this past week as two of tennis’s greatest champions, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, took to the courts to shed off some of that holiday rust. It is still very early days to tell how these two will do in 2018 – especially for Serena – but let’s look at how they fared in their respective exhibition matches.
For the most part, it looked like Federer didn’t take a break during the off-season. There looked to be very little rust to shed. If I hadn’t seen his pictures from Rottnest Island, I’d have suspected him of playing secret tournaments, somewhere. It is possible the rust will show up when he faces more dangerous opponents. Yuichi Sugita was an entertaining test, but Federer passed it with flying colors. His timing was exquisite during their match and he took the ball very early from both wings. Sugita was always gasping for air… and time during their rallies. However, what really impressed me about Federer – in both his singles and doubles matches – was how natural he looked at the net. His net stalking was predatory and he hit a few jewels including a phenomenal half volley pick up during his match against Sugita, that set up a backhand no-look putaway. It is only the Hopman cup but if Federer is in this sort of mood early on, look out.
How does one describe the feeling of seeing Serena Williams back on the court? She has become the darling of tennis and deservedly so. Her’s is a story every little girl deserves to hear and be inspired by. It was a warm potpourri of happiness, nostalgia and a sense of pride. This was not dulled by Serena’s more than expected lack of form during the match. She has gained some weight – understandably – and her movements were sluggish, particularly in the first set which she lost 2 – 6. The second set saw the champion emerge and for a brief moment, put on a clinic with Ostapenko taking the front row seat. She won that set by the same score, 6 – 2. The final set was a 10 point tiebreak and that’s where Serena’s match rustiness really showed.
However, we cannot be too hard on Serena and judging by her post match greeting with Ostapenko, she cannot be too hard on herself either. Last year, Federer came back from a 6 month lay off to dominate the tennis landscape. Serena Williams is playing tennis at this level for the first time in almost 12 months. The match fitness will come, eventually. She is too good for it not to.