Of all the great wins Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime have racked up thus far in Melbourne, I’ll comment only one: Félix’s fourth-round gain over Marin Cilic of Croatia.
The match brought to mind one of the greatest and constant lessons tennis has to offer — a nod to one of sport’s most enduring maxims by baseball great Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
You watched the match and read our recap, so I want to emphasize a very specific aspect of the contest by using another adage straight out of La Fontaine: “By time and toil we sever / What strength and rage could never.”
In those quotes, you have Auger-Aliassime in the first part of the sentence versus Cilic in the second.
In the opening set, which Cilic won 6-2, practically every ball he touched turned to points. As if Superman had grabbed his tennis gear and used all his powers to defeat the enemy. Then, out of nowhere, his steady assuredness began to dissipate, and Félix closed out the second set. In the third, Cilic touched kryptonite. 6-2 Felix.
Even in the somewhat tighter third set, Cilic was but a shadow of his former superhero self.
While he remains an excellent player and Grand Slam champion, at 33 years old (that makes him 12 years older than the young Canadian), he was conquerable.
And Felix conquered.
It’s not the first time — and certainly not the last time — a player collapses. It happens to your favorite pros and to that great hitter you really admire in your club league. And never forget that the beauty of tennis is that there’s no stopwatch.
The lesson learned is that even if you get off to a rocky start, stay calm. And if you get off to an amazing start, stay calm.
Here’s one more sports saying to wrap things up: never try to get too high or too low.
Besides our two Canadians taking the AO by storm, another double act caught my attention: Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis in the men’s doubles draw.
So much so that I’ve dedicated the rest of this blog to tennis’ less glamorous cousin: doubles.
Why less glamorous, though? And why is there so little TV coverage?
Articles and comments on discussion forums provide some insight. The opinions likely will not surprise you, since they sum up the situation fairly well.
- The rallies end too fast.
- The net game is so quick that it can be hard to follow for neophytes.
- The big names want to focus on singles and rarely play doubles, so doubles competitors get little recognition, if any.
- Ultimately, too few headliners mean too few viewers for broadcasters and their partners.
But consider this:
- When singles matches start clocking 3, 4 and even 5 hours, does a quicker and more exciting doubles showdown really keep you on the edge of your seat?
- Didn’t Denis Shapovalov build himself a better net game thanks to the doubles events he played with Rohan Bopanna? And does he often play doubles in early rounds to get a feel for things?
- Isn’t Félix’s only ATP title a doubles crown won with Hubert Hurkacz in Paris in 2020?
- Wasn’t doubles key to our prodigies’ most recent success at the ATP Cup?
- Haven’t our Canadians won a bunch of WTA and ATP doubles titles? And Slams? That’s 10 for Daniel Nestor, 2 for Gabriela Dabrowski, 1 for Sébastien Lareau and 1 for Vasek Pospisil.
- Isn’t Canada’s only Olympic gold in doubles tennis? (Nestor and Lareau in Sydney 2000)
- Closer to home, aren’t tennis clubs full of players who only compete in doubles? For many of them, less time spent jogging on the court means more years playing the sport they love.
So, what’s the problem?
No matter how you slice it, the fact remains that a broadcaster’s job will always be to attract viewers — the fans and the curious — and provide their sponsors with good visibility.
In the meantime, as soon as you can get to a tournament near you, do yourself a favor and go to a doubles match.
You’ll love it!
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis for the KO
Yes, there are a lot of Ks.
At Kia Arena, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis turned a match of secondary importance into a funfair. Against all odds, the two friends and countrymen had an unbelievable first week and moved into the third round of the men’s doubles event.
By way of background, here’s an idea of where the two stand. Kokkinakis, who’s working his way back into the Top 100 in singles, is currently No.434 in doubles. Kyrgios, who needs no introduction, is No.259. Needless to say, wildcards were required.
In the opening round, they defeated fellow Australians and wildcards Alex Bolt and James McCabe, who are ranked even lower.
In the next match, in front of a full house packed with 7,000 exuberant fans, Kokkinakis and Kyrgios entered the stage like rock stars, all smiles and without a care in the world. They were certainly the underdogs in their showdown against the No.1 team of Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, who collected nine titles in 2021, including Wimbledon and the Olympics.
With the unwavering and boisterous hometown fans behind them on every point, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis went gangbusters and orchestrated a huge upset in three exciting sets. You can catch all the highlights here.
After the match, behind the scenes, the losers’ frustration got out of hand. Kyrgios revealed that he and Kokkinakis got into an altercation with the No.1s’ coach and fitness trainer. Was it because Kyrgios clipped his rival with a ball? (something that happens all the time in doubles and for which he immediately apologized) or just the raucous atmosphere that culminated in a startling KO?
The story has since become fodder for Australian and international media.
In a post-match interview, Pavic was hard hit: “They are pretty loud. Obviously, they cheer for Aussies. It would not hurt them to show some respect to all opponents, to other players. ”
It seems Pavic has already forgotten Croatia’s 2018 Davis Cup triumph over France, on French soil, where his own visiting team faced a roaring and inhospitable crowd.
That’s the huge paradox in the Croatian team’s reaction, since the vibe in Melbourne was virtually identical to the former reality at Davis Cup (one a vast majority of players miss): the backing or hostility of the local crowd. Even when competing on rival territory, players see the adversity as a challenge and try to capitalize on it. In Melbourne, the Croatians were up against it, in addition to two of Australia’s own.
The Special K contingent did it again in the next round with a win over 15th seeds Ariel Behar of Uruguay (No.47) and Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador (No.39) to earn a spot in the quarters. Again, fans went WILD.
I’d add that the Aussies have a very entertaining affinity. Between you and me, that rapport and the sheer fun of spending time together will always be among those intangible, essential elements that make a successful doubles team.
Let’s not forget how they worked for Félix and Denis in Sydney two weeks ago.
Regardless of how far Kyrgios and Kokkinakis go, their refreshing run will have helped turn a spotlight on what remains a very high-level athletic competition.
Twitter: @ paul6rivard
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