Two Different Champions, Two Different Stories

Jan 30, 2012

You couldn’t have had two different finals. On the one hand there was the straight sets demolition of a former champion by a 22 year Belarusian who 11 months ago was about to throw in the towel. On the other hand, there was a just-under six hour epic battle in which the winner was hardly definite even on championship point.

Not to say that one was definitely better than the other. They are two different tournaments, four different players, and two very different stories. Djokovic was the man to beat; Azarenka was the challenger to Maria’s crown. You can’t really compare the two.

The first, then. Victoria Azarenka had come so close to completely giving up tennis, and she went onto the court on Saturday as the second favourite to Maria Sharapova’s more experienced game. What happened afterwards was a surprise for everyone on the court, including Sharapova.

It wasn’t just that Maria lost and Victoria won. Victoria destroyed her opponent, blasting through any sort of game plan Sharapova might had had – and if she did have one, it was hardly one worthy of a final –  to win the final on a 6-3 6-0 scoreline. She might have had the experience, but Sharapova didn’t have the game and when it all fell to pieces, Azarekna just had to keep her head and drive through to the final point.

Even though it must have seen cut and dry from the end of the first set, Azarenka still couldn’t believe her win when it happened. The look of disbelief she gave to her team in the player’s box just demonstrated how she had kept this conclusion out of her mind until the very last second. After that, even.

She was a deserved champion not just at the end of that match, but at the end of the tournament. Not only does she now take the Australian Open champion title, she is also world number one. Not a bad start to the year. She has now been honoured by home country Belarus, where she is currently being held as a sporting hero. And for good reason. She is a fantastic player, with a level head and keen determination to work hard and fell the ‘big names’ in women’s tennis. It’s a characteristic that defines the younger players and one that Azarenka embodies beautifully.

Her fellow Australian Open champion is another one that stands for a fantastic era in modern tennis. Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in a 5 hour 53 minute epic that kept blood pressure high and bums on seats as the night drew in in Melbourne.

What a match. And we thought the 2008 Wimbledon final demonstrated the best of the best in the modern men’s game. This was a level above, a new gear we had no idea that these players could possess. By the way Djokovic fell to the floor after championship point , it seems that it was a bit of a shock to him as well. Where has this form come from? Now a five time grand slam champion, four of these won in the last year. Three in 2011, one in 2012. Considering his last kiss of a trophy was 2008, that’s an impressive kick he has found. If there was ever motivation to go gluten free, there it was on the centre court at Melbourne. There’s nothing like seeing someone rip their shirt off their after a passionate 5 hour and 50 minute match to make you think your diet might need the odd tweak here and there…

If men’s tennis is going to continue like this, there is going to have to be someone on the sidelines specially trained to get chairs folded out quickly under collapsing players during the presentation speeches. As the sponsor speeches started, there was a severe case of wobbly players at the net and the water bottles were handed out. At one point they both looked like they might be needing a stair-lift to get up onto the platform, but finally the officials left the stage and let the players give their last ounces of energy to being perfect representatives of this beautiful sport. With sweat dripping off his place, Djokovic reminded everyone that Nadal is still a champion to be beaten, and that he himself is still coming to terms with the fact that he can beat the guy.

So what can possibly be next for the men’s sport if this is the first tournament of the year? You couldn’t have got a better game if you’d had genetically engineered robots out there. In fact you wouldn’t have had half as good game, because they might have been moving inhumanly but the passion was blindingly clear.

The most exciting thing about that match was what it signalled to come, I think. As I said I have no idea what that is, but whatever it is it’s going to be immense. We certainly have a new dynamic at the top. It was always Rafa and Roger, but now…after sharing that experience in Melbourne, there might be a different battle about to commence.

-          SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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