It has been a crazy week in Melbourne. The temperature was not rising to the usual dangerous levels forcing the heat rule to be applied. Yet, on and off the court there was damage and destruction.
If, first, journeyman Denis Istomin left a crater-like hole in the men’s singles draw by bouncing out defending champion Novak Djokovic, a madman named Dimitrious Gargasoulas then shocked Melbourne. For a city which is peaceful by any yardstick, Dimitrous, with a history of mental ill-health, drove his car like a maniac to mow down the public in the busy Bourke Street, killing four, on Friday.
Even as Dimitrous grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons and is in hospital after being shot in the arm by the cops, Istomin continued to rock on court. The way he battled his way past Djokovic in the first round and showed the door to the multiple Aussie Open champion was a pointer to how the underdog can bark and bite.
Istomin has not stopped as yet. On Saturday, he muscled his way past Pablo Carreno Busta in three hours and 27 minutes in the round of 32. For someone who has been on the ATP Tour as a journeyman for long, trying hard to make a living, the sudden burst of brilliance has been captivating. It’s stories like these which catch the imagination of the viewers Down Under.
The first week in a Grand Slam can be always tricky. This is the time when a top gun may have starting trouble, though people have already started writing off Djokovic!
Heck, he is just a human and to say he is done and dusted so soon is not required. From former coach Boris Becker to Pat Cash, both feel the former No.1 from Serbia is past his prime. Had a heartless hack said all this, one wouldn’t have minded it. But then, just as people keep suggesting Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are past their prime, comments on Djokovic should not be taken too seriously.
|Serena Williams is chasing Steffi Graf ’s record of 23 Grand Slam titles.
Indeed, as much as we rave and admire Andy Murray, the numero uno, and a player like Stan Wawrinka, men’s tennis still has charismatic characters in the middle. It would be wrong to put Istomin in the same bracket as Federer and Nadal, yet the guy from Uzbekistan has shown a large heart in playing with passion.
For millions of Federer and Nadal fans, the first week Down Under has been a happy one. Federer’s comeback after a long injury lay-off has been a solid one. At 35, he looks as trim as any player in his 20s and his game has revolved around the usual grace.
Nadal did face anxious moments on Saturday but his value as a romantic relic in a Grand Slam is very important. Often, we keep hearing, tennis no longer has players with charisma and the ability to draw huge crowds. Nadal has again shown that despite the ups and down in his injury-plagued career, he is ready to keep slogging and see if he can win one more Major. The same applies to Federer, who really does not have anything more to prove.
That brings the connoisseurs to Serena Williams, the undisputed diva of women’s tennis who is chasing Steffi Graf ’s record of 23 Grand Slam titles. Serena has been around for ages. Quite literally. She has won 22 singles Grand Slam titles and the 23rd is in sight. For someone who likes to be in the news all the time, Serena has been a bit subdued this time in Melbourne.
Serena doesn’t sound pompous this time and one would tend to believe she has become a lot more philosophical. To say that is a new found maturity would be hard to explain as at 35, she is not going to change her approach to life all of a sudden.
The common belief is whatever she touches turns gold, but Serena knows very well she is chasing history and to equal Graf ’s record would be momentous. When Graf ruled women’s tennis, the German was unstoppable. Serena has faced resistance from the younger lot in spurts and her poor form last year at the Rio Olympics was shocking. Now that the black American has admitted she is in the process of settling down in life with her boyfriend,
Serena looks more serene on the court. It’s this romance in the air with golden oldies in action which makes watching tennis so beautiful.
Serena, Federer and Nadal are still out there, making it a good first Grand Slam fortnight Down Under.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)