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Tennis News From Australia • What A Day… Wozniacki Retires • Serena Loses • And Federer Wins In Five Sets

By Alix Ramsay

Don’t you just hate it when people listen? It was only yesterday that we were moaning on (as is our wont) that nothing had happened so far at the Australian Open. We were bored; the tennis was dull and the stories were thin on the ground.

So, in order to keep the press pack happy, the powers that be stuck another dollar in the meter, pushed the button and, hey-presto, all hell broke loose.

We had barely got through lunch when Serena was given a tonking by Wang Qiang. That had come hard on the heels of Caroline Wozniacki playing her last match, a three-set clumping by Ons Jabeur. The evening started with Coco Gauff dismissing Naomi Osaka in straight sets, got progressively worse as Stefanos Tsitsipas was duffed up by Milos Raonic and became seriously concerning as the Mighty Fed dropped the first set to John Millman.

For all Aussies out there: John is a lovely bloke and he deserves every success that comes to him. But not now, Johnno, not now. Not at 10pm. You know the rules: if you are going to cause the upset of the tournament, do it during the hours of daylight or save it up for another day.

Where to begin? Taking it from the top, Serena got exactly what she deserved against Wang, the woman she had flattened at the US Open just a few months ago. That day, she limited the Chinese to just 15 points over the course of her 6-1, 6-0 win. On Friday in Melbourne, Serena superglued her feet to the court surface (always a sure sign she is nervous) and was made to snatch and grab at almost every shot as she was beaten 6-4, 6-7, 7-5. The pursuit of that elusive 24th grand slam title will have to wait a few months more.

“I definitely do believe [I can get the record] or I wouldn’t be on tour,” Serena said. “I don’t play just to have fun. To lose is really not fun, to play to lose, personally.

“It’s not even about the slams, it’s about just me playing good tennis, and I didn’t do that today. That is more disappointing. So, it’s not even about the win, it’s just more about I’m better than that. That is what it is for me today.

“If we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. So it is what it is. Like I said, it’s not about the tournament, it’s just like I can’t play like that. Like, I literally can’t do that again. That’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.”

What was cool was the way Wang had learned her lesson from New York (lots of hard work on and off the court and a new determination to stay calm at all costs) and even when she made a howler or two, she stuck at it and got it right next time.

Perhaps she should have a word with Osaka. The world No.4 came to Australia as the defending champion and with every day that passed, she got tighter and tighter. This defending business is not easy at the best of times but when you are on a collision course with the biggest young name in the game, these are not the best of times. She lost 6-3, 6-4 in a little over an hour.

“I just feel tight, like, playing here a little bit because of the defending thing,” Osaka said in her quiet way. “And then today more, because I have played her before. There’s always, like, such a huge hype leading into the match.

“And of course it’s, like, well-deserved. It’s just tough. You don’t want to lose to a 15-year-old, you know. But I guess that’s for me, like, a reality check. It doesn’t really matter the age of the opponent. Of course she deserves to be here. She played her matches. I just have to work harder.

“This one hurts a little bit more. I love her, but I don’t like this feeling of losing to her.”

Back in New York, Osaka had won over the crowd all over again by consoling Gauff after giving her a stern cuffing in the third round. This time the tables were reversed and it was Gauff who was left to say all the right things about her beaten rival while trying not to get too carried away with her first trip to a grand slam fourth round and a new career high ranking of No.50.

“I just always have the belief I can win regardless of my opponents,” Gauff said with that easy confidence of a 15-year-old. “Obviously today was a huge boost in confidence. But, yeah, I think I don’t really think too much about playing defending champion or ranking when I’m on the court.

“Definitely there was a difference in the mentality entering into the match today. I was a lot more calm. I think now coming into this, I’m just going to have fun, play my best tennis and see what happens. I came out with the win today, and I think that made the difference.”

She learns fast, does Gauff, and if she truly is the future of women’s tennis, then she is hurtling towards the present at a rate of knots. With that in mind, it is hardly a surprise that some of the older generation are getting out while they can.

Wozniacki knew the moment would soon come when she would lose her last ever match as a professional player. Against Jabeur, she did what she could to hold that moment at bay but she could not hang on forever – she lost 7-5, 3-6, 7-5. And that is when the crying began. She was in tears, her mum and dad were blubbing like kids, her brother lost it completely and her husband, all 6ft 10ins of him, was in bits.

The crowd gave her a standing ovation, the public address system belted out “Sweet Caroline” and suddenly is dawned on everyone that this was it: it was over. Caro had just retired.

“I’m not a big crier,” Wozza said (although she hid that well on Friday), “but I think when the family came down, I saw my dad pacing himself, that’s what he does when he tries not to get emotional. Then my mom was bawling. She had sunglasses on. My brother was shaking. I think that caught me, I got emotional.

“Obviously looking at David just smiling, crying, being excited all at once. I think it was just a very special moment. I just tried to take it all in. It’s probably going to be a moment I will never forget.”

Federer won’t forget his 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, four-hour win over Millman in a hurry either. Forever playing catch-up against the local hero, time seemed to be running out for the old GOAT as he went 8-4 down in the fifth set tiebreak but then, as only he can, he somehow hung on, made the most of Millman’s nervy errors and ran away with the last six points of the decider. Boy, was he relieved when it was all over.

“It was really Johnny who made it so difficult for me tonight,” Federer said. “I never felt comfortable tonight, not until the last shot: I went for it and he picked the wrong side.”

And with that last winner, Fed notched up his 100th victory at Melbourne Park to add to the 100 wins he has at Wimbledon. It was yet another record for the old boy – no man has ever done the century double before. With Marton Fucsovics to come on Sunday, those of a betting persuasion have already got their fiver on win No.101 in two days’ time.

And just in case anyone is listening – that is quite enough excitement for one week, thank you very much. We won’t be making that mistake again in a hurry.


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