On Thursday, I provided 23 highlights from the season so far. Now, let’s look at some things that I haven’t liked this year.
1. Americans shun the spotlight: It’s been disappointing to hear American stars Sloane Stephens and John Isner complain about the pressure and expectations they feel under the spotlight. After losing his Indian Wells opener, a terse Isner said he would have preferred not getting a big court assignment, but rather working his way through outer courts. To hear a top player, the then-No. 1 American no less, complain about having to play on Stadium Court in one of the biggest tournaments in the U.S. was jarring. Meanwhile, Stephens, who has struggled since reaching the Australian Open semifinals in January, hasn’t hidden the fact that the attention has affected her mentality.
Isner and Stephens have benefited professionally and financially from the scrutiny — Isner has sponsorships from Coca-Cola and Lacoste while Stephens was delighted after her Aussie run because of an explosion of Twitter followers and an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In contrast, it’s really made you appreciate how Andy Roddick and Serena Williams have handled themselves.
Perhaps they should heed the words of Madison Keys, 18.
“If you are getting [attention], then you are obviously doing well and you want to keep that because that means you are still doing well,” she said. “Embrace it.”
2. Victoria Azarenka’s medical timeout: The ripples of Azarenka’s timeout when she started choking against Stephens in the Australian Open semifinals are still being felt. The controversial ending overshadowed the fact that Azarenka had been on her way to dismissing Stephens easily. Stephens was completely outmatched and outplayed. It inflated an assumption that had Azarenka not called the timeout, Stephens would have won. That’s unfair to both women. Beyond that, the incident led to one of the most awkward Grand Slam finals in my memory, took away from Azarenka’s second major title and painted her as the closest thing to a villain in tennis.
3. Li Na stumbles, fumbles chance at the Australian Open: To add to the drama, Li looked like she was in good position to win her second Slam, against an understandably tense and nervous Azarenka. And then Li came crashing down. The Chinese star rolled her ankle after taking the first set and tumbled to the ground. Later, in the third set, she fell again, bumping her head on the court and forcing a smile during concussion tests. Despite that, she still had chances to win (7-for-18 on break points). The women’s final had everything. None of it was good.
4. Maria Sharapova’s over-the-top celebration: After rolling over Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in the Australian Open third round, the Russian unleashed a vocal, prolonged reaction that made you think she had won a Slam.
5. Rules? What rules: One thing the first part of the season has made clear is how little professional tennis players know or understand the rules. The ATP’s enforcement of its revised time-violation rule has led to weekly arguments between players and umpires regarding how the rule should be enforced. It makes you wonder how clearly the ATP explained the new rules to players before the season.
Aside from the time-violation dust-ups, umpires still allow players to take improper medical timeouts for cramping. Azarenka’s Australian Open timeout led to confusion among players, fans and pundits as to what exactly the rule allowed. In the end, tennis must solve one dilemma: Are umpires and players going to respect the rules as they’re written, or are they happy to live in a world governed by the always subjective code of “discretion?” If it’s the latter, oh boy.
6. Indian Wells prize money fight: Tournament wants to give players a large sum of money. Players want a large sum of money. Seems like a pretty simple transaction. And yet, it almost didn’t happen at Indian Wells, where tournament representatives sitting on the ATP Board tried to block the prize-money increase for fear other tournaments would feel pressure to boost payouts. To quote Roddick, “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
7. Piotr Wozniacki gets into it with an umpire in Doha: No coaching incident looked worse than when Caroline Wozniacki’s father and coach, Piotr, argued a chair umpire’s call from the the stands.
8. Mona Barthel’s slump: Hey, remember when Barthel won the Paris Indoors in February? Yeah, me neither. Watch the soft-spoken German’s game, and it’s hard not to fall in love with that easy backhand down the line. Yet for the second straight year, Barthel came out of the gates firing — Auckland semifinal, Hobart final, Paris title, Indian Wells fourth round — only to go winless since.
9. Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad match: If ever the scoreline belied the poor quality of a match, it was the third-round push-fest between Simon and Monfils at the Australian Open. An injured Simon won 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 8-6 in almost five excruciating hours. It was gut-wrenching, and not in a good way.
10. Brian Baker’s Australian Open ends in a wheelchair: Many gasped when Baker, the Cinderella Man of 2012, came up limping during his second-round match against Sam Querrey in Melbourne and had to hop on one leg to his bench. Baker sustained a torn meniscus and had to be wheeled off the court. No one in tennis deserves better luck than the 27-year-old Baker, who is on the comeback trail.
11. That this shot landed out: Stupid Hawk-Eye.
12. That I had to listen to this. Twice: It’s just … not great.