The first weekend of the 2018 season is in the bag. A lot happened this weekend and gradually we are beginning to take note of the in-form players going into the Australian Open and those who might need to lift their games a bit before tennis’s first grand slam rolls by. Here are my thoughts on a weekend that produced an extraordinarily high level of tennis and some sad withdrawals from the Australian Open.
Alexander Zverev needs to find his Zen
To take a measure of how good this guy is, this is the one match Federer could lose. Federer knows it too
That’s an excerpt from the First Serve series article I wrote on Alexander Zverev. You can read it right here.
After Zverev took the first set tiebreak, this started looking more and more likely. Zverev is one of the few players who can boast multiple wins over Federer and he had just handed Federer his first set loss of the tournament. He had also won it in a tiebreak – a stage of the set Federer rarely losses. Then it all came apart.
In yesterday’s article on Zverev, I talked about him learning from Federer’s ability to problem solve over the course of the match and about Zverev’s own need to vary his game more so he doesn’t get very predictable. Both traits were on full display in their match. Federer changed up his game in the second set, switching to an array of slices and jaw-dropping drop shots. Zverev was never able to make the switch to counter that. Instead, he allowed himself get frustrated when his lone game plan didn’t work. and unraveled. Against Thanasi Kokkinaikis in the semifinals, something very similar happened. If Zverev is to fulfill his full potential, he has to learn to adapt his game, mid-match. I still strongly feel that a calm mindset and variety will help him.
Is Kerber Back?
Let’s face it. Angelique Kerber had a terrible season last year, punctuated by a shellacking at the hands of Naomi Osaka, in the first round of the U.S Open. Yet it is Kerber who played some calm, inspired tennis to cover up for Zverev’s youthful brashness when it cost him. In the finals, she played a brilliant match against Belinda Bencic, who was also coming into the finals without losing a singles match throughout the competition. Athletically, Kerber has repeatedly shown that she can play with the very best of them. She is a gifted ball striker who covers the court so well. Her challenge has always been mental and she has said as much. At the Hopman Cup, with the pressure and spotlight of being number one off her back, she looked relaxed and dangerous again. Let us hope it is a sign of things to come.
Kyrgios, Kyrgios, Kyrgios!
Nick Kyrgios is the guy you want to write off but can’t because he keeps proving you wrong everytime you do. Kyrgios talked about a more measured approach to 2018 and it was easy to write that off. We’ve heard Kyrgios talk a big game before. Then he went out and backed it up by winning Brisbane. How do you write that off? Suddenly, I find myself having to consider Kyrgios a dangerous contender at the Australian Open… until he proves me wrong again. It wasn’t so much that Kyrgios won Brisbane. It was how he won Brisbane. I’ve never seen him serve as well as he did in the tournament. That serve, when he got it going, was like the ultimate cheat weapon in a video game. Use it enough times, and you are guaranteed the win. His opponents had no way to get around it and slowly, it applied more pressure on them. It was akin to a boar constricting its prey. Every time they took a breath with a hold, Kyrgios would tighten the grip with an easier hold of his own.
However, Kyrgios was far from a servebot in this tournament. We all talk about Dimitrov’s immense talent – a talent he has recently begun to fully exploit but it is easy to forget just how talented Kyrgios is. It is a sort of lazy talent that casually oozes off him. One he chooses to show in a vast array of explosive forehands, ripping backhands, edge of your seat volleys and exquisite touch you wouldn’t think of a big man having. Kyrgios may not always look like he has it all, tennis-wise, but he does. In the final, he simply outclassed an in-form Ryan Harrison to win his first title on home soil.
The message is clear and well received. Kyrgios is here to play in 2018. We are taking you seriously now, Nick. The rest is up to you.
Like him or not, you have to feel for Andy Murray right now. He left a gut-wrenching message from the heart to his fans about his struggles, last week. Try as he may, his hips haven’t fully recovered and it is keeping him from the game he loves so much. Andy Murray’s passion for tennis has never been in question. Unfortunately, many tennis fans haven’t had the same passion for Murray. We’ve all been so wrapped up in Federer and Nadal that we sometimes forget that those two can’t have a story without other great players to push them towards extraordinary feats. Murray is one such player and it is sad to see him go through what he is going through at the moment. What makes it worse is knowing we might never see the Murray we never got a chance to fully appreciate, again. Andy Murray might have to go with a hip surgery and hip surgeries do change a player. Just ask Lleyton Hewitt.
All we can say is “Get well and get back soon, Sir Andy. The game still needs you. We know you still need it too.”