Favourites capture the first major of the tennis year

ANDREW MELOFF

PhotosportThe first grand slam of the 2015 tennis season is in the books, as top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams rolled past the competition to capture the Australian Open championship on Sunday, Feb. 1. Djokovic ousted sixth seeded Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0 to win his fifth Aussie Open. A tightly contested match through three sets, Novak finally broke the will of Murray in the fourth set.

Djokovic was relentless in his approach, rebounding after some crucial moments in the second set. Instead of panicking, Novak stuck to his game, utilizing a powerful serve and forehand that handcuffed Murray on the baseline. Djokovic’s composure under pressure allowed him to manipulate a frantic Murray into a purely defensive role. By the fourth set, Murray’s physical and mental exhaustion became apparent, losing 12 of the last 13 games.

Murray’s last victory against Djokovic was in the Wimbledon final two years ago, an outlier in the friendly rivalry where Djokovic holds a 16-8 advantage.

Continuously progressing upward in his late teens and early twenties, Djokovic has firmly supplanted himself as the man to beat on any surface but clay. At 27-yearsold, Djokovic is tied with greats Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors, with eight grand slam titles. Everything about Djokovic’s domineer screams class, even his post-match victory speech seemed to be a matter of commonality.

Although it wasn’t all the same for Djokovic, this was his first grand slam title as a father and husband.

“I think it has deeper meaning, more intrinsic value now to my life because I’m a father and a husband now,” said Djokovic.

In the women’s final, Serena Williams dominated Maria Sharapova, winning her 19th grand slam title 6-3, 7-6 (5). The first game was very telling of how the match would progress, and Williams continued to excel throughout the sets.

From the start, Sharapova was on her heels as Williams forced the Russian to several voly errors in first set. However, there was a game plan behind the fast start and Sharapova’s defensive approach.

It had been rumoured that Williams came into the match battling flu-like symptoms, which was confirmed by her performance. Late in the second set, it was apparent that Williams’ game was on the decline. Sharapova elected to play the endurance card, however she did not have enough time to wear down Williams, who played like the match was on the line in extras.

For someone who seemed to have done it all, there was a first for Williams during the 13-minute rain delay.

“I had a really bad cough, I ended up throwing up, actually,” Williams said after the match.

Whenever it looked like Sharapova was mounting a comeback, Williams fell back to her strongest weapon, her serve. Tallying 18 aces, the threat of a dangerous serve kept Sharapova guessing. The serve was demanding and Sharapova only broke serve once in the entire match.

With her 19th Grand Slam victory, Serena Williams is only behind Steffi Graf for all time title victories with 22. It’s hard to imagine a future where Williams does not reach 22 grand slam titles. While Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard may be a legitimate threat in the near future, it doesn’t seem logical that anyone in the women’s field will beat Williams.

In the men’s draw, fans have been lucky in the past decade or so with players who’ve charged to the spotlight and forged rivalries with other top competitors. The female draw has not been as fortunate, with the only mainstays being the Williams sisters, both in doubles and singles. The number one ranking has been a curse to many female tennis players, with the exception of Sharapova and the Williams.

Currently, Williams and Sharapova are by any standard the two best female tennis players in the world, and the drop off from second to third in the rankings is rather large. While Djokovic (in points) is the outright number one in the men’s rankings, the name grabs of Federer, Nadal and Murray make the matches seem like a possible upset is in the works.

The problem may lie in the already controversial scoring system in which the men’s victor is determined by the best three or five sets and the women’s by the best two of three sets. It was very apparent in the women’s final that this form of scoring is a flaw in the system; rather than a match it felt like a sprint.

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