First Published 1/31/06
What a wonderful tournament the 2006 Australian Open turned out to be! Roger Federer is on track to equal Pete Sampras’ record 14 Grand Slam titles. Sampras had also won 7 Grand Slam titles at the same age, and similarly only the French title eludes them both. An unseeded player, Marcos Baghdatis, came out of the blue to defeat Andy Roddick (#2), David Nalbandian (#4) and Ivan Ljubicic (#7) only to eventually run out gas against Federer who turned on the after burners and sped into orbit for a 5-7 7-5 6-0 6-2 win.
On the women’s side Martina Hingis returning to the sport after a 3 year lay off, delighted fans with a sparkling run to the quarterfinals, only to lose to an injured but determined Kim Clijsters. Hingis combined with Mahesh Bhuphati, a gifted doubles player in his own right, to win the Mixed Doubles title. She now has nine Grand Slam Doubles titles (as does Bhupathi) along with her five Grand Slam Singles titles.
Amelie Mauresmo followed up her year ending WTA Championship win with the capture of her first Grand Slam Singles title. Mauresmo will now move to #2 (from #3) in the rankings. Her previous Grand Slam final had been in 1999 in Australia against Martina Hingis. Strangely, Mauresmo played three matches this tournament in which her opponent, including Henin-Hardenne in the final, retired during the match to give her the victory. However this could be seen as a testament to Mauresmo’s newly found attention to her fitness and mental toughness.
At a recent USPTA conference and I’m sure among the bureaucracy of the USTA, there is much discussion about U.S. players performances. One aspect to the equation is clear and that is that many of the national programs that are enjoying success are often sacrificing the education of their players to get it. Is that a worthy trade-off?
Another aspect is that current U.S. juniors are reluctant to play each other to the degree that past juniors did for fear that it will affect their mental edge and also their ranking. That is not a healthy situation and suggests mental weakness rather than strength. Many of the successful countries have an attitude of “being in it together” – they train together, play together, compete together, and therefore have each other’s support while striving to elevate their games. Juniors of all levels benefit from healthy, broad ranging competition. The attitude should be that if you can’t beat someone you are going to put in every effort to learn how to beat them. Too often I see defeated players eager to give every excuse in the book to explain their defeat instead of walking away from an unsatisfactory match with the attitude that they will work on the problems presented in their match. This gives them something to look forward to as long as there is no deadline. Too often parents and players expect instant results. It took Roger Federer several years longer than most pundits predicted to find success. Who could argue that the wait wasn’t well worth it?