New champions in Australia and the end of ‘The Big 4’: Winners and losers of 2014’s first major

Stan is the man

Stan is the man

Winner – Stanislas Wawrinka
It’s often said about people who fail to make a breakthrough in the majors that causing an upset is one thing, putting together seven results quite another. Fortunately for the new Swiss number 1, he didn’t have to put seven together. He was aided by a retirement in Round 1 and a walkover in Round 3. However, his achievements over the past six months in particular are not to be downplayed, and they reached their deserved denouement in Melbourne. He knocked out the defending champions in each of the last two majors and negotiated a wounded Rafael Nadal to lift his maiden Grand Slam title. Lesser men would have crumbled completely when faced with a warrior champion refusing to die but Stan held firm and played the better tennis in the first and fourth sets. He becomes the first man in 21 years to defeat both the Number 1 and 2 seeds in the same major, and with that he earns the #3 ranking for himself, but much more importantly he is able to add three words after his name that will live forever more. Stanislas Wawrinka: Grand Slam champion.

Winner – Na Li
As Wawrinka celebrates becoming a Grand Slam champion, Na Li has entered the pantheon of multi-slam winners, and she has done it on two very different surfaces. At the age of 31, she is still tweaking her game, looking for little improvements and goodness what a difference Carlos Rodriguez has made to her tennis. Justine Henin’s former coach has given the Chinese the belief that she can impose her game on whichever match she plays in. Her saved match point in Round 3 served as her wake-up call and she was simply stunning from thereon. The Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific has its first Asian champion and there is no reason why she can’t add to her tally of majors in the rest of 2014.

Aussie Li

Aussie Li

Loser – Patrick Mouratoglou
The coaching guru. His work with Serena Williams is held up as a shining example of world-class coaching but I simply don’t buy it. Any coach worth their salt could help Serena to a couple of majors a year. His assertion before the tournament that his charge could win all four majors this year was hit into touch by Serena after her 4th round exit to Ana Ivanovic. According to Serena, she had stopped thinking about that particular objective a long time ago. It may be time to have a word with your coach about his very public spouting then.

Winner – Grigor Dimitrov
The next big thing. Sharapova’s squeeze. And finally, potential being realised. A grand slam quarter-finalist and it was richly deserved. His show-time tendencies were largely held in check by his patience in his four-set victory over big hitting Milos Raonic and he gave enough worries to Rafael Nadal in his four-set defeat to suggest good things lay ahead for the former Wimbledon junior champion. Expect him to have a big say on events in the summer and early autumn.

Loser – Vika Azarenka
The two-time defending champion was never at her best in this year’s event. Despite not dropping a set until the quarter-finals, it will be a great worry to her how easily she got lost in Agnieszka Radwanska’s web of trickery. Somehow, she needs to hone her second serve into something that is less of a hindrance to her chances at the business end of tournaments. With Serena’s second serve, she would dominate the game. With her current one, she may struggle to add a further major to her current haul. The rest of her game is explosive, but the second serve needs surgery.

Winner – Dominika Cibulkova
It would have been easy to pick Genie Bouchard as the surprise element from the women’s tournament, but the young Canadian did pretty much what I expected from her, made more possible by Serena’s early elimination. Cibulkova, on the other hand, was a wholly unexpected but very welcome surprise. She picked Maria Sharapova’s game apart with ease before dispatching with last autumn’s form girl Simona Halep within an hour. However, it was her semi-final demolition job on Radwanska that really announced Domi’s arrival on the big stage. She’s only 24 so has time to consolidate this run with more consistent results in the other slams. When her game is firing, there are few who can live with the power of the pocket rocket from Slovakia.

Loser – Agnieszka Radwanska

Always the bridesmaid?

Always the bridesmaid?

Ah yes, Miss Radwanska. One fears that she may be the eternal bridesmaid. I have not seen many finer performances than her quarter-final victory over the defending champion. The variety, the speed, the pace, the power, the defence, the offense. It had everything. To follow that up 24 hours later with her horror show against Cibulkova suggested either a physical or mental frailty or possibly even both; things that could stop her from putting together the seven consecutive wins necessary to win a major.

Winner – Tennis
I wrote at length last week that it is the competitors not the organisers who make the sport what it is, and that was proved in the second week. A grand slam is defined by titanic performances. When was the last time that all of Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Vika Azarenka, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray failed to make it to the semi-final stage? 2010 French Open, that’s when. The emergence of Genie Bouchard, Grigor Dimitrov’s hard work beginning to pay dividends, Na Li peaking in her early 30s, ‘The Big 4’ of the men’s game being a thing of the past as Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and others insist upon their names being in the reckoning, an Aussie woman making it to the second week, the triumvirate of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal all still looking like forces but ones which have been caught up with by the rest. Yes, as a tennis fan, I’m pretty stoked at how the Aussie Open went!

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