Wednesday, February 28, 2024

OPINION: Record Grand Slam beckons

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Nice as it was to see Serena Williams win her first tennis tournament in Auckland this month since the birth of her now two-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia, I always preferred her older sister Venus as a gracious personality.

Certainly there have been times when Serena was a bad tempered, sore loser, possibly in part because it happened so seldom. But as a power player, she is in a class of her own and just one tantalising short of Australian Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam triumphs.

In winning the ASB Classic final 6-3 6-4 over fellow American Jessica Pegul,  Serena showed gradual improvement in every match since her error-prone first round doubles with good friend, the popular Caroline Wozniacki.

The pair made the final but were comfortably beaten 6-4 6-4 by the much younger American pairing of Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammed.

Having donated her prize money to the Australian bush fires cause, Williams would love to emulate Court’s Grand Slam record in Melbourne and hope the fitness she gained from her heavy Auckland programme will serve her well.

However it shouldn’t be a walk in the park even if dangerous smoke doesn’t choke the event.

Novak Djokovic (pictured) beat Rafael Nadal 6-2 7-6 in another epic singles clash in the final when the Serb showed he had the iron will to match his ability. Photo Wikipedia

Experience remains important but age takes its toll and she is not the near-invincible player she was at her peak.

Some would argue that is also true of such male stars as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. But they would expect strong debate from the 220,000 fans who watched the first ATP Cup series in Australia when Serbia took the men’s final 2-1 from Davis Cup champions Spain.

That just two months separated the two events deserved the criticism of Nadal who reasonably expects better from the world governing body. But what an enthralling spectacle it provided.

Djokovic beat Nadal 6-2 7-6 in another epic singles clash in the final when the Serb showed he had the iron will to match his ability.

It wasn’t Nadal’s first loss in the men’s teams championship, having been beaten by Belgium’s David Goffin.

With Roberto Bautista Agat winning the other singles for Spain, it was surprising Nadal didn’t contest the deciding doubles won by Serbia. Presumably he was too knackered after winning four of six singles and two doubles over 10 days.

As a spectacle Djokovic’s semi-final singles win against 23-year-old 6ft 6in Daniil Medvedev was even better, ending a two-match losing streak against the gifted Russian.

Bautista Agat had also performed outstandingly in Spain’s semi-final against Australia when he was quick to pounce on the Nick Kyrgios dangerous serve for a surprisingly easy 6-1 6-4 singles win.

Alex De Minaur had played consistently well for Australia but fell 4-6 7-5 6-1 to Nadal.

Meanwhile with Maria Folau and Casey Kopua retired and Laura Langman and Katrina Rore resting, the new look Silver Ferns will take confidence from their 64-48 triumph against England in the Netball Nations Cup in Nottingham.

England were also missing Jo Harten, Geva Mentor, Helen Housby and Serena Guthrie. But with 21-year-old Maia Wilson combining well with Amaliaranne Ekenasio and slotting 27 goals from 29 attempts, the future looks bright for the Ferns.

What made it so impressive was that coach Dame Noeline Taurua used all 11 players.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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