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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday January 31, 2020

 
Garbine Muguruza

Muguruza's moxie, Novak's Aussie appetite and more in our semifinal Aussie Musings.

Photo Source: Mark Peterson/ Corleve

Four thoughts on the run of play through the singles semifinals at the 2020 Aussie Open.

More Aussie Musings: Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 8 | Day 10

Novak on the Cusp of Perfection

Novak Djokovic: Master of Melbourne.

Maestro of Melbourne?

Whatever you want to call him, he’s the boss of the Australian Open and the Serb’s 2020 campaign has done nothing to dissuade anybody of that opinion. Not only is Djokovic now 15-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals combined, he’s also 14-2 lifetime against Top 5 opponents at the Australian Open. My word!

Tennis Express

Djokovic still has a final to play so we’ll save our most glowing praise for Sunday in the event that he does defeat Dominic Thiem to claim his eighth title at Melbourne. For now let us just put it out there that 2020 is shaping up be another remarkable season for Djokovic. 

It has most certainly been a dream January for the 32-year-old. Team Serbia’s victory at ATP Cup has served as a springboard, providing Djokovic with an emotional lift to kick off his campaign. We all know how Djokovic responded to winning the Davis Cup in 2010—he turned in his best professional season ever in 2011. Could it be possible that history repeats itself and Djokovic has a dominant season in 2020?

It remains to be seen, but by placing himself one win from his eighth Australian Open title—and one win from reclaiming the No.1 ranking—Djokovic is certainly on the fast track to having yet another mind-blowing season.

Muguruza Has a Refuse to Lose Mentality Again

Some thoughts on the resurgence of two-time champion Garbiñe Muguruza: While most in the media were doubting her legitimacy and wondering if Muguruza would ever play top-flight tennis again, that was never an issue inside the mind of the Spaniard. Despite a troubling 2019, Muguruza always seemed to carry around the belief that she was one of the elite players in the game, and even though her results didn’t prove that theory out in the short term, she didn’t seem to mind—or become disturbed by—the fact that her ranking had slipped outside the Top 30, or that the media’s perception about what she might achieve in the future had changed.

"You know what? Who cares about the ranking, honestly," Muguruza said after her fourth-round win over Kiki Bertens.

That innate self-confidence has to be one of the reasons that Muguruza has been able to regain her championship form so quickly here in Australia. It’s easy to point to the fact that she has traded what many felt was a toxic coach-player dynamic with former coach Sam Sumyk for a productive and refreshing one with Conchita Martinez. That’s certainly playing a role here, but the underlying reason that Muguruza is suddenly exhibiting world-beating form is because it is in her DNA. She struggled mightily in 2019, winning just one match after Roland Garros, but the Spaniard never bought into the theory that she was on a downward trend or that she had lost the ability to be a champion.


The power of Muguruza’s mind is one of the biggest reason that she is a two-time major champion, and that power is still one of the most potent characteristics of the 26-year-old's game. The purity of her desire is palpable when she plays and in her semifinal with Simona Halep we could almost feel her willing herself to win pivotal points, games and, eventually, the match.

Circling back to her malaise in 2019: Muguruza is wise enough to know it wouldn’t be possible for her to produce rarefied tennis regularly. She’s mature enough to know that scratching and clawing to remain inside the Top 5 would be a futile exercise for her. Instead, she chooses when to fully engage; when to paddle out into that ocean and target a big wave. And when she finds it, look out—this is a player that has the power to become invincible. We’ve seen it before, and we shouldn’t be surprised that we are seeing it again.

There may be very little that Sofia Kenin can do on Saturday in the final when faced with a force like Muguruza. The Spaniard is big-game hunting right now. In her mind she’s bullet proof, a player that has tapped into the matrix and simply refuses to lose.

Barty Looked Like the Inexperienced Player in the Semis

The heat was oppressive. Her opponent was formidable, and opportunistic. But that doesn’t change the fact that Ash Barty was a shell of herself at times in Thursday’s semifinal with Sofia Kenin. And yet Barty still had chances to win both sets, thanks to the fact that Kenin—at times at least—was nearly as bad. It was one of the strangest semifinals we can remember, with both players unable to build any momentum, particularly in a first set in which the nerves played the starring role. Barty could barely get her normally reliable slice over the net in the opening set.


Before lambasting Barty for squandering her opportunities or delivering a subpar performance on Thursday, we must consider the fact that she was shouldering a heck of a lot of pressure as the Aussie No.1. That pressure seemed to wash off her pretty naturally all summer, as she claimed the Adelaide title and became the first Aussie woman to reach the semis in Melbourne since 1984. Thursday it didn’t wash over her so easily, and while only Barty knows what she was feeling in Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, it did appear that the occasion got the best of her.

Though she may have squandered what looked like a great opportunity to win a second Slam on paper, Barty will not let the whole experience go to waste. She’ll take what she learned and move on. If all goes as planned, the 22-year-old will have more than a few more shots at becoming the first Aussie woman to win the title in Melbourne since 1980.

“I've learnt so much over the last month,” she said. “I've learnt from all of the experiences that I've kind of been thrown into. I've loved every minute. I won't wait a year to put those into practice. I'll put those into practice next week. The next time I walk out on court, the next time I kind of wake up in the morning, every experience you need to learn from. I've done that.

“I feel like as a team we've grown. We've enjoyed every single minute. I mean, can't wait to get started for kind of the rest of the year. I feel like it's going to happen pretty quickly and we're going to be back sitting at this table with an Australian summer next year.”

Halep’s Pain Will Lead to Pleasure

No shame in coming up short in a major semifinal, especially when one plays the way that Simona Halep did against Muguruza in the pair’s semifinal. Halep had four set points in the opening set and served for the second set at 5-4, but her opponent just played too well in the important moments.

Tennis, the ultimate fickle mistress.

After the match Halep was hurting, and seemed to lament the fact that she didn’t go bigger in those pivotal moments.

“I think maybe I could be a little bit more brave in the points that were important,” Halep said. “I didn't do that. Maybe I went a little bit defensive in those balls and I couldn't take the domination of the point… In the important moments she played a little bit more braver.”


The Romanian should be commended for her efforts in this contest. Though it didn’t go three sets, pound-for-pound it still might have been the most physical and most compelling women’s match of the tournament. The ball-striking and the quality of the rallies was off the charts.

And it was all played in stifling heat, with temperatures hovering right at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was a tough loss for Halep to take, but based on her performance down under, and her reaction to the loss, We’d put some money on her winning another major title this year.

“To lose like this hurts more, definitely,” she said. “I'm in pain now, I have to admit. But life is going on.”





 

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