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By Erik Gudris | Saturday, January 20, 2018

Novak Djokovic Australian Open 2018

Week one at the Australian Open saw plenty of drama in the women's event, testy exchanges between umpires and players and the return of Novak Djokovic.

Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Whenever a new tennis season starts, and that includes the Australian Open, no one is quite sure what to expect during the first week in Melbourne. This past week brought tennis watchers plenty of drama with many of the biggest stars either exiting early, or escaping early exits. Unless you happen to be Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal who so far have breezed through their opening rounds and look headed to perhaps a rematch of their stellar final last year. Though, as we’ve seen, anything can happen before then.

Remember Me?

The most anticipated return by any player in Melbourne had to be that of Novak Djokovic. The former six-time AO champion came back to tennis after six months due to a long injury layoff. But Djokovic’s comeback has been anything but smooth or serene for the man who is big believer in meditation and keeping calm no matter what adversity is thrown your way. No player has made as many headlines on and off the court as Djokovic during the first week.

It all started before the tournament even began when press reports surfaced Djokovic made calls during a player’s meeting for a new and separate player’s union apart from the ATP that would, in part, help players at all levels make more money on tour, especially during the Grand Slams. Most players when asked seemed to support the idea, including Federer though when and if such a new union or even a player’s boycott would happen in the near future seemed unlikely for now.

It’s hard to know yet if a boycott, like the one in 1973 at Wimbledon by 90 players as part of the newly formed ATP, will ever happen that would create some new player’s union separate from the ATP that was created to help the players earn more money. Tennis loves its ironies, for sure.

Djokovic’s return to the actual court hasn’t been all that smooth either.

Both he and Federer got caught up in another controversy (if you want to call it that), this time over match scheduling. Djokovic played his second round match against Gael Monfils in brutal, hot conditions. Federer, meanwhile, enjoyed much cooler conditions in a night match. Djokovic denied earlier reports he had actually requested a day match while Federer, when pressed if perhaps had more pull in making a request for a night match, simply said “Possibly”, before adding that over 60 guys make court and time requests for their matches and not everyone gets their wish.

Certainly Federer appears to be getting more “love” from tournament organizers than Djokovic this past week, either on purpose or not. While Djokovic has been away from the tour for six months, has it been so long that people have forgotten how to spell his name? Perhaps an anticipated possible semifinal match between him and Federer, either at day or night, will help those in charge of such things to finally get it right.

Wide Open Spaces

With Serena Williams absent from this year’s event, another wide-open women’s tournament was expected. For a few moments, it seemed like the women’s event would be bereft of all of its biggest names outright before the second week even started. Multiple seeds, including last year’s finalist Venus Williams, US Open winner Sloane Stephens, and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, all exited in the first two days of the event.

Top seed Simona Halep and second seed Caroline Wozniacki both stared down multiple match points in early round matches. No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina overcame an unspecified health issue before her first round match that she barely won in three sets. Now all three women appear to be on course to possibly reach the semifinals.

No. 17 seed Madison Keys, who said after her third round win, “I am always happy if I’m not the drama”, is certainly flying under the radar and could well be a player to keep an eye on. So is No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia who made a great run at the end of last season to reach the WTA Final. The winner of their fourth round match between each other could well reach the final.

The player to beat, it appears though, is No. 21 seed Angelique Kerber. The 2016 champion showed much of that major winning form the other night in completely dismissing another former champion Maria Sharapova in straight sets. Kerber, who had a dismal 2017 season, is now at the start of this year on a 12-0 winning streak. Who knows what new coach Wim Fissette has whispered in the German’s ear to cause this sudden reversal of fortune, but it is nice to see Kerber once again proving what a great player she is at the biggest stages of the game.

War of Words

A player clashing with umpires is nothing new. But for some reason, the first week down under has seen something close to battle lines drawn between umpires and players in several eyebrow raising exchanges.

Caroline Wozniacki called her chair umpire “rude” after her match with Kiki Bertens. Daria Gavrilova was miffed when an umpire denied her a challenge request.

Perhaps Agnieszka Radwanska was the most irate of all during her loss to Su-Wei Hsieh in their third round match. After the umpire ruled not to let Radwanska replay a point after a controversial call, Radwanska had had enough.

The Polish star, feeling the umpire was wrong, called for the supervisor and ended up winning her case, if not the match.

Then there was this bizarre and somewhat hilarious, perhaps not for her, exchange that CoCo Vandeweghe had with the umpire in her losing effort against Timea Babos. The umpire gave Vandeweghe a code violation for taking too long to return to court because she was waiting on bananas.

But let’s not forget the men and their rants.

Alexander Zverev lost it when lights were not turned on quick enough for his liking as his match against Hyeon Chung went into the early evening hours. And Julien Benneteau raised a stink when his electrolyte drinks went missing for some reason in his match against Fabio Fognini. Fognini ended up winning the match and is now into the fourth round.

As of yet, Fognini, the current day bad boy of tennis has yet to be hit with any unsportsmanlike behavior fines. Most likely because of his awful tirade against a female umpire at last year’s US Open that almost got him banned from the Australian Open. If Fognini is perhaps trying to stick to a New Year’s resolution to be kinder to all umpires, than that could be the most significant news of the first week indeed.


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