Jan 29, 2022

2022 Australian Open Men's & Women's Finals Writeup

Nadal vs Medvedev :

Twenty one. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the number. It’s the age you can drink and gamble at in the US, it’s the sum of the first six whole numbers(ty google), it’s how many tomatos squirrels stole from my garden, and it’s the number of majors that a good chunk of the world wants someone to get. Oddly, watching Novak set up to get it felt a bit anti-climactic. With Federer looking near retirement, and Nadal on his last legs and dealing with injuries, it started to seem like Djokovic would get 23-24 before someone from the next gen finally passed him by. Medvedev provided a challenger, but the odds are that him and Novak will trade hardcourt titles for a while longer. Nadal threatening one more Roland Garros felt possible, but this would make things very interesting. With the hard work he’s put in and his humble nature, there’s no reason to not want Nadal to take the lead, especially since it’ll likely be short. Even better, Medvedev being the guy to deny Novak and Nadal that title lends him the legendary status/buzz that will be hard to come by since the tour’s press has been all about the big 3 for so long. There’s definitely a power vacuum, and this is a great chance for Medvedev to fill it.

Nadal’s semifinal against Berretini was as straightforward as you can get. It looked very much like the helpless attempts Matteo has made to beat the big 3 in the past, but this one should have been different. He’s made great strides in his consistency over the past few seasons, and Nadal had looked somewhat vulnerable in earlier rounds. 5 sets with Shapovalov is fine, but it’s the manner in which he faltered in the 3rd and 4th set that made him a question mark. True to form, Nadal faded in the third set again, and Berretini was happy to take the set, but it was too little too late. Nadal dominated this matchup and Berretini made a poor start. When you know someone is going to target something, you want to fight back. Berretini’s backhand errors in this match were just way too frequent. From the overhead camera view, they don’t make a lot of sense, but we all know that Nadal’s shots kick up pretty high so it’s not totally Berrettini’s fault. He seems to get there in time, but sends the ball into the bottom of the net very often. The swing doesn’t look bad, but I think he’s just gotten away with not needing to be solid on that wing. His habit of looking for the forehand means his footwork leaves him making the switch to the backhand side a bit late, so the backhand slice fits his game better. It’s a last minute choice and can be hit from a bit behind you. With his two-hander, he seems to need to get his entire body behind the ball in order to make it. It sounds crazy but it’s possible for a big serve or forehand to get you very far in racquet sports, and that’s the story with Berrettini. To make improvements, he has two options. One, he can spend the rest of the season working on his backhand down the line at all the 250s. He doesn’t hit this shot terrible, and it would prevent his opponents from just camping in the backhand corner. Two, he can strengthen his legs. I’m not sure if it’s possible to add much muscle onto a tall frame without injury, but balance and strength come from your legs. If he’s having to snatch at backhands and is making errors when he’s forced to scramble, a lot of it could just be from trying to do extra with his upper body since he’s not stable.

The backhand errors gave Nadal a home, and he served well and had a solid gameplan. You could see that since Berretini doesn’t swing much on returns, Nadal was able to get mostly forehands on his second shot. The chip return is great, but from the duece court Nadal was serving and then backing up towards the nearest sideline almost immediately. You can’t let your opponent have that kind of comfort on the second shot. Nerves and strategic nightmares spelled defeat for Berrettini, but it was still a great result overall. His results in majors were already consistent and now he’s getting a step further. He’s having a great career either way, but if he wants to clear the next hurdle he needs to improve some things. For a guy with a great serve, he doesn’t serve and volley enough. Nadal is a tremendous returner, but you have to apply pressure to him. It’s worth it to get passed once or twice to put the idea in your opponent’s head that you’re coming to net when they’re stretched off court. It can make them force shots, and keep them from using simple slices to reset rallies when they’re pulled deep. The other thing is the same thing. He needs to come in behind the slice. Again, he’ll get picked off here and there, but the visible distraction of coming in rushes your opponent and you’re really never going to beat the Nadal’s and Novak’s if they have time. The last thing is obvious, he needs to start from scratch on his two-hander. It’s been good enough until now, so the path forward leads to improving that swing. It isn’t impossible for someone to develop a good two-hander, and the reality is that the time it will likely take him is the only barrier. People like Hurkacz, FAA, Tiafoe, Fritz, Delpo, and Barty have all greatly improved their two-handers after being on tour for a while, and they all have different methods of producing it. Losing to Nadal is no huge issue, as he’s the king of exposing people’s backhand, but other people in this event stole sets from Matteo with similar strategies and less adept shotmaking.

While Nadal was enjoying his time, fellow finalist Medvedev was struggling. Stefanos Tsitsipas backed up his quick defeat of Sinner by playing some of his best tennis ever in the first two sets against Medvedev. He was excellent at creating short angles with the forehand, he balanced his game well by introducing but not overusing dropshots and slices, and he served good enough to hold even with Medvedev. Medvedev seemed a bit more sea-monster than usual, with kinesio tape in a few spots (abs and the back of his legs) and a healthy amount of sweat. Even his hair looked a little tired. At one point Brad Gilbert asked if it would become an issue, and Darren Cahill assured him to hang in there, and that Medvedev was in good enough shape to play his best no matter how long the match went. Gilbert responded by saying “so he’s holding a 2 - 7 offsuit like it’s a pair of aces huh?” and continued on. I have avoided the announcers for this entire event, but they got to me last night.

When Brad Gilbert isn’t mixing metaphors, he’s confidently making incorrect assertions about what people are thinking, what they’re doing, and projecting his own ignorance onto everyone around him. It’s exhausting, and just when you’ve tuned it out he insists on saying “fearhand” every single time. He also pointed out all the close calls that line judges would have gotten wrong, and praised the “voice activated” computer system. BG then warned Tsitsipas couldn’t afford a letdown in level after a letcord took a bad bounce and almost hit Tsitsipas in the face. I had sort of realized I was being judgey when he pointed out that Nadal and Berretini were holding serve at 95% in their earlier match so Med and Tsitsipas holding so often was even more impressive. Like dude, the Nadal scores were 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. I’m not a voice activated line judge system but that’s not gonna work out to 95% ever.

Just when Gilbert was making me switch over to the French broadcast, Medvedev treated us to another wonderful tirade. Medvedev and Tsitsipas played tremendous tennis for two sets, with Medvev having won back a mini-break to win the first set and having breezed through most of his service games in the second. Serving at 4-5 to stay in the set, a few errors creeped in, and it was like he was fighting the inevitable in his mind as he doubled faulted twice to lose the set. For a moment, it was almost his fault, but true to tennis player form he found something external to blame. Medvedev began badgering the ref angrily, asking if Stefanos’ father could talk every point. He asked the ref “are you mad bro” and dropped so many quotables that I think most of r/tennis was already excited about the memes. The best part was teling the ref that he was a small cat if he did not call a coaching violation. The worst part though was telling the ref he was stupid, and berating him publicly. With hawkeye installed, the refs have somewhat become glorified babysitters, and the babies are ones who often do not seem worth the $, especially since the umpires are not allowed to have boyfriends over. Medvedev was completely out of line with his behavior, and it was completely transparent that he was only blaming the ref because he didn’t want to accept that he had lost the set. It’s the same childish knee-jerk reaction to spew a non-sequitur whine that makes Kyrgios unforgivable, and it’s sad to see Daniil act in this way. I thought an apology would have gone a lone way in his post-match interview, but part of the problem is Apostolos Tsitsipas. One look at this guy is enough to tell that he’s a bit of a toolbox. He really doesn’t stop coaching during a match, and it’s been a problem for a very long time. The masks don’t help, as it’s now difficult to see when he’s chattering over the buzz of the stadium. To the ref’s credit, they had an off-duty umpire who spoke Greek stand below his box, and he was given a coaching violation warning. I guess his coaching is valuable, because after the warning Medvedev ran away with the match. The last set was clinical and when Medvedev gets a little breathing room he comes up with some very aggressive groundstrokes.

Some debate about what to do with the coaching has come up, because “everyone does it” is a mostly true statement. Kovinic could be seen actively nodding “yes ok” to instruction from her box during her match against Jang. Serena famously got upset when Mourataglou was called for coaching. Plenty of coaches are doing it and it’s only called occasionally. It still doesn’t make it okay. When there was on-court coaching in the WTA, the players seemed less emotionally stable. They’d fold up during a tough patch of errors, and call the coach. Tears flowed more often, and the coaches would invariably come out, tell them to hit the ball down the center of the court, and they’d proceed to win a few games in a row. This would then trigger their opponents to call for their coach, and an entire set would be lost with both players just hitting shots down the center. It doesn’t make for entertaining tennis, it doesn’t make for emotional growth in the competitors, and I’m kinda glad COVID removed this and the ballkids holding the towels from the game.

Apostolos clearly doesn’t care about the rules, so they need to do something. Cahill suggested they just make coaching legal, which could be okay. Having a corner shouting instructions makes UFC fighting interesting, but the argument against this is that the better players can afford better coaches and this would give them a colossal advantage. The real win would be for tennis to realize all the problems with the game stem from selfishness. Why do you insist on coaching even though it’s against the rules? It’s because you want to win at any cost. Why does “others are doing it” appeal to your logic and reason? It’s because you think only of how things affect you, and what you might get from a situation. The people doing this aren’t considering how much of a better product tennis would be if it weren’t viewed as a sport for spoiled rich kids, and how their behavior feeds into that narrative. Banning coaches from sitting courtside is the right thing to do if they violate the rules, and one of the only things that would directly make people stop. Part of the appeal of tennis and any solo sport has always been watching people manage adversity and navigate through the strategic options, and seeing who does better. It’s literally the root of competition to prepare, and then meet and produce a result. Fidgeting with that process just seems a small man’s game.

While I’m complaining, I’d like to thank Jim Courier for a wholesome yet cringey interview with Medvedev. His interview last night felt like when the principal calls you into their office to give you an award but the whole conversation feels tense like you’re in trouble. He’s a nice dude, but when he asked if Medvedev would be watching Ash Barty’s match, Med didn’t take the slam-dunk answer, instead asking what time it would be. Fine, and Courier made a good little joke about Med not taking the easy path to get the crowd on his side. Fine again, but he went on to vaguely talk about Med’s box being empty and add that he could maybe get a few fans on his side if he invited them into his box. For one thing, this is awkward af. Medvedev has been boo’d by crowds that he did nothing to, and the idea that you need to make people happy who don’t particularly like you is puzzling. The guy is playing Nadal on Sunday, the crowd is not going to be on his side if he bakes them all personalized lasagnas tonight. It’s the gentle scolding of a guy who doesn’t understand Medvedev, and has not bothered to. Medvedev is honest, hard-working, and relatively unique. Pretending he’s slow because he doesn’t give the generic cookie-cutter press agent answers about “I just try to play my tennis” made me grumble a bit. (No more complaints til Wimbledon I promise).

I’d love for Nadal to win his 21st tonight, but it will take a monumental performance. He’s had the advantage thus far of playing people with strategic deficiencies (Mannarino’s lack of power, Khachanov’s fear of saber-tooth tigers, Berretini’s backhand, Shapo’s emotional instability). Here he has an opponent who really does everything well. Medvedev’s serving has been better than usual in this event. He plays at a fast pace, which is not what Nadal wants with his mildly tenuous physical state. He’s the best returner in tennis right now, and doesn’t give up much from the baseline. I feel strongly that it will be difficult for Nadal to score in this match once the first set is gone. Rafa’s serving has been great, and it being a finals means he can swing even freer, but there’s some sense that Medvedev has been playing a different event. I don’t think Nadal would have defeated Tsitsipas nor FAA, and Medvedev’s fatigue from the FAA match shouldn’t be a huge issue since he finished the Tsitsipas match strong and is getting an extra day of rest. 21 would be amazing to watch, but it’ll take a gameplan that I’m not aware of for Nadal to win. Medvedev’s backhand is a somewhat safe target because he hits flat and Nadal’s ball gets such height, but it won’t give him the errors that Berrettini’s did. The angles Nadal can create will be imperative, since Medvedev can be a bit passive at times (the way Djokovic blitzed him in the AO finals comes to mind), but the wall Nadal has been hitting in the third sets of matches concerns me. Medvedev shutting down 21 for these guys is an okay end to the story, and Nadal winning 21 brings such tremendous intrigue to the race. There is no bad result here, but one sounds like a storybook ending and one sounds like the natural progression of the tour. Medvedev in 3-4.

Barty vs Collins :

One more match. Everyone knows that an icosikaihenagon is a 21 sided shaped, but what’s a one sided shape? A point? If so, it makes sense that Barty’s march towards her first Australian Open has involved her winning all of them. I was terrified before her semifinals clash against Keys, but she dismantled the hard-hitting American. Despite the TC announcer hosting her very own Madison Keys informercial, Keys made errors that we really hadn’t seen thus far from her, and it was an early problem which gave Barty a bit of breathing room. She has some tough service games, but Barty’s serving is another tier from the players that Keys had been dominating in return games. It’s always fun to see a top offensive talent play against a top player, just to see if it’s able to make inroads. In the second set, it was, but Barty’s game isn’t the same as before. In the past, her forehand would sometimes disappear. Here, it’s been sharp and accurate. She’s putting more thought into the contact point than into the location but this seems to be because her accuracy has improved. The extra muscle mass is always giving her a bit more power which means she’s not swinging that hard to produce the game she’s brought here. I don’t want to gush, but holy wow she’s good, and she’s still improving. It’s scary, but her opponent for the finals doesn’t really seem scared of anything.

Collins entered the match against Swiatek with a puncher’s chance. Swiatek’s serving was suspect, and Collins’ returning is some of the best on tour. I sort of expected Swiatek’s overall ability to edge her past Collins, with Collins having trouble on serve. Nope. Swiatek struggled throughout with errors. She directed the ball frequently to Collins’ backhand and that was the first set gone. She won 14% of her second serve points, and Collins served lights out. She’s one of the better frontrunners on tour, and the semifinals there was probably the best serving she’s ever produced. Swiatek did well to not get too angry, but she never found any bright points to cling to. Collins broke early and often, and hit her backhand for clean winners. It was a mirror of the performance that Keys has been giving us so far, and Collins scares me just as much heading into this. Collins and Barty have played in the past, but unlike Keys’ former losses being discountable, I think Barty’s are a little bit here. The loss last year in Adelaide looks bad, especially since Barty was up an early break, but I happened to watch that match so I can provide context. Barty started this match looking incredibly sharp, and Collins was a bit outclassed. After a close line call went Barty’s way, Collins lost her collective beans. She yelled at the umpire, protested the call, and ended up insisting that the refs cheated for Barty because she was from Australia. She insinuated that this was always the case, and only stopped once the umpire let her know to stop with that particular line of questioning.

It was a sad display, but it worked. Barty seemed to stop playing completely, and just phoned it in for the rest of the match, while Collins fistpumped obliviously away. So remove that loss from the evidence, unless you think Collins is prepared to rage her way into Barty folding up in this finals. Collins is human, and humans grow. Her temper issues have gotten better (along with her results), but he’s also had some hardships and dealing with that also helps us grow. Her battle with endometriosis and her return to the tour may have given her a little gratitude, and she’s been pretty honest in her post-match interviews. The past wars are possible, but Barty’s serve has greatly improved, as has her slice (the ball gets much lower than it used to. She’s just hit past and unravelled Madison Keys, so she should be able to deal with Collins’ power. Where Collins’ differs though with a slightly smaller offense, she improves on Keys’ game by being way more consistent. Collins will punish any short ball to her backhand wing. She can go both directions adeptly, and her forehand is heavy and hit for winners. Her serving last round was tremendous, and if she brings that same level she’s the best test Barty has had.

Oddly, I expect this to go three. I thought Keys could slow down Barty also though, and it just didn’t happen. Collins will have to generate her own pace on the backhand, and the slice Mertens was using did make life tough on her. Barty’s serving might make Collins’ return position result in a lot of errors, and her being familiar with her opponent will let her recognize and move well to Collins’ particularly aggressive shotmaking. The only issues Barty has had so far have been isolated games where she’s been dominating so well that she makes a few narrow errors on skill-shots. When you’re painting the court, it’s easy to apply a bit too much finesse. She can occasionally double, and I think in these spots Collins will break where Keys missed a number of returns. Collins and Barty’s previous clashes have been close, and it’s hard to pull away completely since Collins plays so solid behind her backhand. I honestly am pulling for Barty here, but this is the hardest match she’s faced. Collins probably can’t outduel Barty for 2-3 hours, but she can take a set if the opportunity presents itself. Barty in 3.