The Australian Open is Experiencing a “Tennis-sance”

*I made the Tennis-sance joke on Twitter last night, but like 12 people follow me so it fell on deaf ears. No one follows me here yet either, but at least I’ve proven to myself that I’m hilarious. Twice.*

Murray and Djokovic. Murray and Djokovic. The number one and two players in the world, respectively, and also the finalists the last two years in a row at the Australian Open. At the start of the tournament, everyone was expecting a three-peat, and the start of what was assuredly going to be a year-long rivalry for the top ranking.

Instead Djokovic, a six-time champion, was bounced in the second round. Two rounds later, Mischa Zverev served and volleyed his way into a four set, fourth round upset of the world number one, Murray.

The change in energy was palpable. Surely with the early absence of the top two players in the world it was finally time for some new blood. Guys like Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic would finally have their chance to break through.

Not so fast.

Instead, as we enter the tail-end of the tournament three of the four remaining men are all previous grand slam winners. Two of the four are the two greatest players to have ever played the game: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

If you like tennis, or even have a passing interest in the sport, these two need no introduction (and if you don’t like tennis you most definitely aren’t going to read this obscure little blog)!

Their rivalry is legendary. Their success in grand slams unparalleled on the men’s tour. Roger is the record holder with 17 grand slams, but he hasn’t won one since 2012. Rafa is close behind at 14, but has struggled the last couple years to even make it to the second week of a slam tournament. Both missed significant time last season due to injuries, and even the most ardent fans were beginning to wonder if either would ever be able to win a grand slam title, again.

We’re now all just one round away from being proven (hopefully) wonderfully wrong.

Let’s face it, unless you’re are a super-fan of and/or related to Grigor Dimitrov or Stan Wawrinka, tennis fans are rooting, nay PLEADING for a Federer vs. Nadal final. That not only guarantees one of these two giants will add to their collection, but it could potentially alter the significance of their rivalry when it comes to each player’s place in history.

I think Andy Roddick said it best when asked about the potential final match up:

“I think it could be the most historically significant match ever. If you think of where they are at in terms of Federer being on 17 Slams and Nadal on 14 Slams, a Nadal win puts him back in the game, back in the conversation, narrowing the gap to 17-15 with the French Open just around the corner. A Federer wins puts him on to 18 and I don’t know that there’s enough time left to make up that difference, and he would sit on that record for a long time. If it happens, tennis will just want to give that match a big hug! In-form, playing well, bit of a throwback, it would be amazing.”

Amazing indeed. Fingers crossed, you guys. Fingers crossed.

My picks to win:

  1. Roger Federer: Once Murray was out of the tournament I threw my whole heart in to rooting for Roger, so part of picking him first may just be emotional. But I also think he’s playing objectively fantastic tennis. After a shaky couple of opening matches, he dismantled Berdych, outplayed Nishikori, and put on a clinic against Zverev. And while I know Nadal dominates their head-to-head, given where both players are at in their game right now, coupled with how fast and low the courts are playing, makes me give Federer the edge.
  2. Stan Wawrinka: If anyone is going to dash my dreams for Federer’s 18th grand slam it’s Wawrinka. Federer’s compatriot, and semi-final opponent, Stan’s proven over the last few years he can out hit anyone towards the tail end of slams.
  3. Rafa Nadal: Honestly, I was of the opinion that Nadal’s best days were behind him. While I always figured he’d remain competitive on clay, I doubted his ability to make deep runs in the other three slams. I’m so happy to say I was wrong. While I still think it’d be an uphill battle for Rafa in a final against either Federer or Wawrinka, Nadal’s heart and competitive spirit are second to no one’s, and might just be enough to push him across the finish line.
  4. Grigor Dimitrov: Dimitrov is off to a great start this season. In fact, with his win in Brisbane coupled with his run here he’s actually undefeated this year. If he keeps playing this way, he’s destined for a great season, but so far he’s only had to play good players. To win this whole thing he’d have to go through two great ones, and I think that’s still too tall an order for Grigor at this stage in his career.

*The women’s semifinals had just started when I began writing today, and I didn’t want to jinx it. Needless to say, I’m thrilled the “tennis-sance” is continuing on that end as well. Great job, Venus!

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