Feb 20, 2021

2021 Australian Open Men's and Women's Finals Writeup 🐢

This has been a great return to tennis for the tour. The shtories and wild results were present, but not to the detriment of the quality of play. I don’t really know what to say here. I’m excited to go back to sleeping on a normal schedule, but sad that it’s over. Thanks to all that joined the picking competition for this event. The site has decided to do these regularly and signups are open for the next one now. Free to join of course and some bucks are available to be won.

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Naomi Osaka vs Jenn Brady :

Jenn Brady saved the best for last, sort of. Taking the court in the semifinals, Brady was on a tear. She’d barely dropped any sets, and had overcome a very sharp Jessica Pegula in the quarters. It was time for the real show though. Brady absolutely smoked the ball in the semifinals. She was able to find offense from everywhere on the court, and went very big on her serve. The only problem was none of these things stayed in the court. In a match where Brady seemed like she wanted to put an exclamation point on the win, she nearly shot herself out of it. Instant forehand errors, aggressive serves landing 4-5 feet wide, and a general impatience shadowed her game, and by the end of the 2nd set Muchova really hadn’t done much in the way of offense. She actually picked up her game a bit in the third going after some good forehand returns, but this was really a match where Brady’s pressure would have been ineffective had Muchova been at full strength. She was a bit subdued, and the hot conditions that caused her to take a medical timeout the day before looked to have drained her at the end.

Brady played a 15 minute service game to end the match that included a ton of second serves on break points, and oddly where her ambition to dominate rallies had cost her points, her reversion to keeping the ball in the court netted errors. For Muchova, it was a match where she was very close in the scoreline but would have won quickly if she were fresh. The one bright point for Brady is that all the forehand errors were coupled with very few on the backhand wing. She defends to that side well, cutting off the angles and taking a measured swing even when she is well behind the baseline. The forehand was wild, but it generally is not. She played perfect behind it against Vekic and fairly well against Pegula as well, and given Muchova’s questionable fitness levels for this much she may have just wanted to push the pace. It worked out, and it’s a great thing for Brady to get to a finals. Her attitude is great; she’s not a robot on the court but doesn’t get angry either. She smiles after the misses and after she makes a shot, and seems like she’s genuinely enjoying the sport. This is doubly deserved if you look at Jenn Brady from 4 years ago. She has completely transformed her fitness levels and physique, and one thing that’s important to note is that in these 3 set battles where her opponents’ levels varied, she was able to play her best tennis of the whole match in the third set.

Naomi Osaka had the hardest draw in the tournament, but don’t tell the Tennis Channel announcers that. Scrappy Pavlyuchenkova in the first round where it’s tough to find your timing and you’re not emotionally invested in the event, Caroline Garcia who swings for the fences every ball, Ons Jabeur whose offense is a threat and who has one of the best serves on the women’s tour, Muguruza who played incredible the past two weeks and was in position to win the match, a resurgent Hsieh, and then her reward was a fit Serena Williams with a fresh crowd to make noise to add to her noise and energy. But no, Serena played Halep so let’s pretend any fatigue on her part is unfair and the tournament’s fault.

I don’t mind announcers pretending they’ve never seen tennis before, and making noises into the microphone anytime anyone hits a shot. I don’t mind announcers mixing metaphors nonstop. I don’t mind announcers saying half a sentence, or contradicting themselves less than a sentence later. I don’t mind announcers saying “that’s the thing about having a career of over 40 years,” then trailing off and not finishing their thought until a minute later when they add “how well you can play is dictated by how you feel physically and mentally!” I don’t mind announcers saying “I don’t think she’ll get tight serving for it,” then a few minutes later laughing and saying “we can’t know how they’re feeling! we can’t even guess!” even thought their job as announcers is kinda to do that. I don’t mind the same announcers watching Osaka go down 0-40 serving for it a few minutes later and after one says “nobody could have seen this coming” having the same one who said “WE CAN’T KNOW WE CAN’T EVEN GUESS!” blurting out “I DID!” “I SAW THIS COMING!” None of it bothers me at all. Not a single bit. It’s all ok. I’m fine. This is fine.

No amount of nitpicking the winedrunk announcers could overshadow the serving performance that Osaka put on. We knew going in that she would have a slight edge in the rallies because Serena struggles with errors against players with good weight of shot, but Osaka’s serving was something I haven’t seen on tour before. T serves that were unreturnable, over and over. Her rally play was great and reserved which made it very difficult for Serena to come back, but it is easy to play behind such good serving. When she faltered serving for it, she broke immediately to love and closed out. This is next level stuff, and she seems to be able to rise to the occasion in majors which really says to me that the level is within her control. That’s scary for the rest of the tour. Osaka in the past had lost to trouble on the backhand, and depth issues on her forehand. Being able to just leave those behind on command is a problem for opponents, and with her level right now Brady has a super uphill battle. Loved Osaka’s response in the post-match interview to “you were returning so well how did you read Serena’s serve how are you doing that?” Osaka’s like “i don’t know i’m just guessing? I mean it’s going this way or that way” Coaching is great, and gameplans are good, but at the end of the day it really does just come down to being good at tennis, and Osaka is real good at tennis.

The level Brady played against Muchova won’t win a set against Osaka. It is likely to have the match over extremely quickly. She needs to pick things up on her forehand, and be willing to grind out long points. She has the physical ability to be in this match, and I think that the adrenaline of the moment is best tempered by competing hard in a safer manner. She’s unlikely to hit clean winners past Osaka, and her serving wasn’t good at all in the last match. With 5 great matches and 1 subpar, it’s unfair to say she won’t play well, but Osaka has reached a peak of performance while Brady’s level has dipped. I’m excited about the prospect of Brady winning a title, but it’ll take a lot of work and it’s hard to clean up errors overnight. Osaka’s serving is likely to get her a lot of easy holds and Brady’s has struggled. The second serves she hit against Muchova will all get returned with interest here. Osaka in 2.

Novak Djokovic vs Daniil Medvedev :

After his match with Aslan Karatsev I was pretty sure Novak Djokovic had reached a level no one else could really deal with. Against Raonic he had lingering injury issues but managed his movement well in key moments. Against Zverev he played solid and never really had problems in the later sets, but seemed somewhat in pain. Against Karatsev, there seemed to be no issues. I don’t know what sort of injury you can get rid of within an event, but that seems to be what he’s done. This means he’s fresh for the finals, which is scary. Somehow the injury has triggered a much more aggressive version of Novak, and his serving has prospered. Minimizing movement oftens means going bigger on offense, but there are very few players who can just drive the ball angrily back and forth without spraying errors. Novak’s backhand down the line hurt Karatsev over and over, and although Aslan had his best start of the last few rounds, he really never had a shot here. The crowd backed him and really began making noise just to try to watch more tennis, but Novak isn’t the right matchup for Karatsev to beat. His defending is too good, and while the flatter ball he hits is good for Karatsev to lean into, the longer rallies were only won sparingly by Karatsev. Still a great result for Aslan, who I think will end the year around the 30 mark. He has the ability to be a top twenty player, and he showed a bit of extra variety and netplay that we hadn’t seen in earlier rounds, but it is really difficult to find wins for an entire season. I am excited thought to see how he fares in the clay swing. His serve and power are excellent and the bit of extra time might see him really excel.

Medvedev had himself a real nice night. Up against a one-sided rivalry that’s perceived as fierce because of their on-court spat a few seasons ago, Medvedev produced his best tennis. At the same time, a very resolved but fatigued Stefanos Tsitsipas was forced to take the court. He started out very composed and looked like he’d move Medvedev around the same way he did Nadal. Medvedev looked a bit nervous early, and although he hadn’t made any errors, the announcers started to talk about him cramping in the previous round. I’ll admit I started to get scared, having called the match for Medvedev. The opposite really happened though. Medvedev dug in, and seemed resolved to wear down Tsitsipas’ backhand. On the other side of the net, Stefanos fought hard, but his legs were gone. He made a number of errors on low balls and on attempts at forehand winners. It wasn’t an entirely foregone conclusion, but what made it so was Medvedev’s serving. Daniil hit aces like a young Naomi Osaka, and seemingly hit them when he had points at 30 all or 30-40 as if he always could, and didn’t want to waste them. When your opponent is already more consistent than you, and is serving the lights out, there isn’t a lot you can do without a herculean effort, and having just played Nadal in 5 sets a day ago, this was a tough spot for Tsitsipas to really do anything other than push himself and accept the outcome. It was a good sign honestly that these two played most of the match without real frustration. In the third the crowd really started to will their way to more tennis. Yelling on Daniil’s service motion, cheering for faults, and other generally frowned upon tactics did stall him at the finish line, but he was able to break at 5-5 in convincing fashion, and even if Tsitsipas had stolen the set, he seemed physically unable to bring the level that is needed to beat Medvedev. So how can Novak beat Medvedev? This isn’t where I march out the ways he’ll do it. That’s the real question. After seeing Novak’s level I said there’s no way anyone can beat him, he’s not injured. After watching Medvedev, I’m not sure that it matters that Djokovic is at full strength. Medvedev’s movement and defending is about as good as anyone’s on tour, and this will take away from Novak’s ability to score cheaply with quick redirects of the ball that was a big part of his wins against Zverev and Karatsev. Medvedev’s length and position make it difficult to really score cheaply on serve against him, so Novak’s serve will be under a bit more pressure. I’ve also noticed Novak really struggling on second serve against an opponent taking a deep court position, and expect some doubles. Novak’s backhand is very solid, but is unlikely to really earn errors or be the dominant force in exchanges with Medvedev. The issues here for Novak are that everything he is punishing people with so far are things that Medvedev wants to do. The repeatable offense for Novak has earned errors that won’t be here. I think the result will be some exhausting but extremely enjoyable points at the baseline. Medvedev is more likely to make errors in the forehand wing when he presses for offense, but knowing that Novak is going to return most offerings may see him construct the points a bit more patiently.

Since Medvedev takes up a deep return position, the key here for Novak is to apply pressure while Med is on the run. Good serving will allow him to do this, and once he’s at net Medvedev’s ability to pass (which is topnotch) will be tested over and over. Novak’s control and accuracy are the key here for him. This is a match which will look clinical if he’s able to win it, and he’s Novak Djokovic, so why do I keep saying “if”? The quick answer is Medvedev. His serving is better than I’ve ever seen it. He’s coming off a quick win so he’ll be fresh for the finals. He’s playing an opponent who may still be injured if this match goes deep, and a guy who he’s beaten at full strength a number of times already. This is not a good matchup for Novak, and watching Med at the World Tour Finals and this week it is clear that the high level he’s produced has continued to improve. He is as good as he plays. I think this match is dead-even. Medvedev is going to have a much easier time holding serve as long as he serves like he did in the past two rounds. He has shot tolerance that can’t really be hit through without a ton of work. On the other side of the net is a guy who has the consistency to put in that work. Novak may have more returns put into play, but he has been roping the ball all week and as much as he’ll have hard work to end rallies, Medvedev isn’t exactly going to be able to escape them either. This may come down to conditioning if Novak is able to return well, so with a possibly lingering issue and a very well-equipped opponent, Medvedev’s serve may be the key to his win in the tight moments. This is not the same “if” as in previous rounds though. If Novak is injured Raonic should win, Zverev might win. Even at his best, Novak and Medvedev are an equal prospect on hardcourts right now.
The bookmakers seem to agree with me, setting this one as a pickem. For reference, the lines are set to price expected flow of money. Novak in a finals is going to see so much generic public investment, that setting the odds at even is almost them taking a position on Medvedev, because they certainly will see more influx of $ on Djokovic. I tend to agree, and I think that this is a great chance for Medvedev to get his first major. He’s serving better, he’s solid in the rallies, he’s comfortable with his opponent, and he’s already been through a major war in the finals of a major. There just isn’t much to trip him up here, other than a mercurial performance from Novak. I think we get both, and I don’t think in any way Novak is out of this match, just that one guy has a bigger and more reliable weapon in the serve. Medvedev in 5.

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