Both 2022 Australian Open finals were out in round two: Ash Barty retired and Rafa Nadal refused to retire despite an apparent injury. It looks like the entire “Break Point” series was out at round three. This is the first Major after Roger Federer and Serena Williams retired and kind of retired … But the two pre-tournament favorites – Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek – remain in the draw. Plus: A whole unit of Americans for Special Forces, from young clerk Ben Shelton – on his first trip out of the country – to contestants Coco Gauff and Jessie Pegula. On to week two we go. But first, your midterm grades…
Novak Djokovic: Barring an extraordinary upset (or a truly improbable string), his 10th title Down Under and 22nd Major title are needed.
Swiatek game: The top seed is playing like it. And acting like it.
Americans: There are all kinds of Yanks on both sides of the draw. Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old veteran, joins Sebastian Korda (who beat Daniil Medvedev twice.)
Andy Murray: It has become an international law that one cannot mention it without pairing it with the descriptor “metal hip.” (Or mettle hips?) He also has 35 years under his belt, four kids at home, the best sense of humor in tennis and … after more than 10 hours on court and ten sets, he landed in round three. That was the end of its run, but it must be left with real pride in its performance and confidence in its durability.
Chinese players: And not just the women. Zhu Lin (b. Sakkari) and Zhang remain. Seventeen-year-old Jerry Shang is the first Chinese male to win a draw at a Major.
Czech teenagers: They keep coming. Resistance is futile. Linda Noskova won Ons Jabeur earlier this month. And 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova (remember the name) announced herself in Melbourne. Speaking of Czech special…
Martina Navratilova: She fought the diagnosis like she was a fighter in the 80s. (Find her daily on Tennis Channel’s pre-match show, he says well soldier.)
Jack Draper: He lost his first match with Nadal. But—in what could be his last event for a while as an unseeded player—the secret is gone.
Diana Schneider: The Babushka-clad Russian wrestler qualifies, wins a match and turns lightweight Maria Sakkari into a WWE heel. That spring could not be upset. But now in the top 100, she is jeopardizing the likelihood that she will matriculate with NC State as planned.
Breakpoint: Hardcore tennis fans wait for the unforced errors. Casual fans (and, critically, non-fans) are watching and enjoying.
Felix Auger-Aliassime: The Canadians have dropped sets in each of their first three games. But on he goes.
Current events: It’s amazing that tennis gives many players the opportunity to earn money and points the week before an event. But are we at the point where we are better off clearing the weeks off the calendar? Players withdraw rather than risk sub-optimal health for Majors. Players who go deep, rarely have much left for the big show.
Coco Vandeweghe: The former semi-finalist qualifies for the main draw, wins the deciding match 7-6 in the third … then falls in round one 6-3, 6-1.
Garbine Muguruza: We have a duty not to root. But only the coldest souls are silently drawn to her. Last year’s event was interrupted by No. 3. After losing in the first round – forfeiting match points – the future Hall of Famers are outside the top 80.
Dominic Thiem: We have a duty not to root. But only the coldest souls are quietly drawn to it. He won the US Open in 2020. Since then, the quiet Austrian has fallen down a tennis mineshaft. After winning the first round, he will be outside the top 100.
Two seeds with two grand finals in 2022: Casper Ruud and Ons Jabeur both leave whispers and whirlwinds in round two.
US TV coverage: If we work on the idea that “television is the heart of sports”… burying coverage, juggling coverage, moving games to streaming, getting to the point where the coverage is so scary that broadcasters are making media explainer videos social? It’s a great way to kill a sport.
Injury-mania: Yes, injuries are a part of sports. But this enough? This early? Has this changed? Already short of stars, the tournament loses Kyrgios, Alcaraz, Tomljanovic, Badosa before the event – and those are just Netflix principles – and Nadal by Wednesday. We don’t think twice about images like this. Imagine other sports that faced this fact pattern and, instead of addressing the root causes or investing in solutions, basically fumed and said, “Pity. Best of luck with a speedy and full recovery. Hope to see you back on tour soon!”
Scheduling: A sport that ends a competition at 4 am? It is the 24 hours of Le Mans or a sport that stands up to serious treatment.