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Column

Tennis is back

...And I am stoked

The Australian Open wrapped up just a few days ago with the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) Roger Federer winning his 20th career major title.

Let me rephrase, the greatest men’s player of all time. If you don’t think Serena Williams is the best tennis player ever we can have a discourse about that some other time, but there isn’t much to argue.

Federer, now 36-years old, continues to dominate his way through the year’s biggest tournaments, notching his second straight Aussie Open title and his third grand slam win in the last four he has participated in.

For those of you unfamiliar with tennis, an extremely select few are capable of playing professional tennis until 36. The sport is just brutal on player’s lower body. Whether that is feet, ankles, knees, hips or lower back, the countless hours spent on hard surfaces doesn’t do joints many favors.

Federer looked spry and continued to fend off all the “young, up-and-coming phenoms” that receive constant praise year after year.

Despite all the talk, the big four (Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) seem to never surrender their crowns. When they are healthy, which is a big if, they are the best in the business.

However hypocritical it is for me to say this after saying all that, it is truly a matter of time before a youth talent such as Nick Kyrgios or Alexander Zverev takes over.

That slight variation of outcomes is something not seen as frequently on the women’s side of tennis.

Outside of Serena Williams, women’s tennis has been full of parity and never ceases to lack stunning upsets from players that come out of nowhere.

That was a little different this year. Despite, 10 of the top 16 seeds failing to make it out of the first two rounds, the championship match was still contested between the top 2 players in the tournament, then world No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki.

The women’s game has drawn a lot of criticism for its parity, because those who are critical want continued, elongated success like the men’s game – which makes zero sense to me. I love parity. But critics of the women’s best failed to recognize that Halep and Wozniacki were both undefeated in the early parts of the season and they carried that confidence into the first major of the year.

Halep had a gruesome looking ankle roll in the first round, but toughed it out and played through multiple three-set victories. Wozniacki – who had become notorious for collapsing in key situations – fought back from down two service breaks, 5-1, in the third set to win her second round match. Truth be told, I didn’t think she had it in her.

The two women, both seeking their first career major title, battled through three sets before Wozniacki pulled out to a win and collapsed on the court.

The win pushed the Wozniacki, the Denmark-native, to No. 1 in the world.

American struggles

The first two days of the tournament were brutal for American tennis. Fifteen Americans walked on court during the first day of the tournament. Only three advanced to the second round. Some of the more notable, ranked names to fall were No. 5 Venus Williams, No. 8 Jack Sock, No. 16 John Isner, No. 10 Coco Vandeweghe and 2017 US Open champion, No. 13 Sloane Stephens.

In all, only 10 of the 31 US players that entered advanced out of the first round.

That being said, some of the names that did break through the first round put their names on the map for the first time.

Mackenzie McDonald was the name that caught my eye because he was a player who grew up playing tennis around me in the Bay Area.

McDonald, just 22-years old, faced No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov in the second round and gave the Bulgarian all he could handle before falling 8-6 in the fifth set.

A UCLA graduate, McDonald stands at only 5-10, but is an aggressive player and punished Dimitrov with his two-handed backhand that he used to run my friends ragged with.

I never got the chance to play McDonald, but I imagine he wouldn’t need to warm up his coffee to go with the two bagels he would have served me (A bagel is a reference to a 6-0 score in a set with the zero being refered to as a bagel).

I actually reached out to a buddy who faced him back in the day and he distinctly remembers McDonald’s backhand that the newest American tennis protégé wields.

McDonald joined the likes of Tim Smyczek, Denis Kudla, Ryan Harrison and Tennys Sandgren – Yes, his first name is Tennys – as unseeded Americans to advance through at least a round in the tournament.

Sandgren actually made his way to the quarterfinals before falling to another unseeded player, Chung Hyeon of South Korea.

The unseeded American women didn’t disappoint either as Lauren Davis pushed Halep to a 15-13 third set loss (There are no final set tiebreakers at the Australian Open, meaning that the match continues until a player leads by two games).

Madison Keys was the only seeded American to carry her weight as the 17-seed powered her way into the quarterfinals before running into a newly resurgent Angelique Kerber.

Final thoughts

All of this is to say that if you have any interest in following tennis, now is the time to do so. It’s only a matter of time before the young guns on the men’s side of the bracket start to dethrone the Federer and Nadal. A feat which will drive ratings because when was the last time you heard Federer lose in a major that wasn’t the French Open?

The Americans have young talent that has shown itself to be capable of hanging with anyone, making it worth following for anyone interested in what their country can do on a grander stage.

Yes, the game may seem a little slow at first, but wait until you see your first tweener and you’ll be hooked. You can Google that one. It’s worth a peek or two.

Oh, did I mention Serena is coming back?

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