The Straits Times' Sports Correspondent Rohit Brijnath blogs on the tennis action in Melbourne at the Australian Open, which is on from Jan 19 to Feb 2. Read his commentaries here:
Nishikori's image bolsters his yen for perfection
A journalist in Melbourne knows a Japanese interpreter from a Japanese TV station who puts me in touch with a Japanese writer, who is far too polite to flinch from my query. Akatsuki Uchida, who is freelancing here for Smash magazine, knows what I am going to ask because so many here are asking it.
Same question. Every day.
"Who really is Kei?"
Williams serves notice of intent
To say Serena Williams plays tennis well is akin to saying Picasso was handy with a brush. By turning competitiveness into an art form, she has altered history, redefined greatness and defied us to judge her. The best? Ever? In tennis? One day, in women's sport itself? Only the astonishing can make us consider such impertinent questions.
Defending champ crashes out, becomes a Djokovictim
Novak Djokovic was tense not terrific, erratic not exact, not dominating but being dictated to, indecisive not imperious. He was not his glittering self in his semi-final last night and yet he shone when the pressure heightened.
Sometimes a champion must be less than great and yet find victory for us to appreciate how great he is.
Will Serena slam door shut again?
Time flies in sport but so, still, does Serena Williams. She's a dinosaur, she's a relic, she's a modern monument. She's a champion whose beginnings lie on microfilm.
You'll have to hunt for them in archives, digging through files of the same year that Manchester United break Bayern Munich's heart, and Michael Johnson sprints to the 400m world record, and in the Briefs section of a Swiss paper there may be mention of a feisty, unknown man ranked No. 104 named Roger Federer.
With Djokovic, there is no law of diminishing returns
The rapid flight of minor genius is about to begin on Rod Laver Arena. Milos Raonic, his seemingly gelled hair neatly combed, is attempting to violently part Novak Djokovic's hair with his colossal serve.
Djokovic is waiting, Raonic serves, and the Serb is gone. From quivering crouch to sudden lunge, from feet on court to feet in the air. Trying to return serve. Think of it as a striking snake. Or a man trying to catch one.
Challengers serve warning as spirit of rebellion grows
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." George Orwell wrote this on power and politics, yet it is equally applicable to sport. But nothing lasts forever, not those conquerors of geography nor those who make history on court.
Eventually, a man ages like Roger Federer or his body rebels like Rafael Nadal. In the locker room, awe turns to opportunity and apprehension to possibility. Vulnerability is like blood in the water and for athletes it is the most beautiful of scents.
Sharapova offers a masterclass
Maria Sharapova arrived on court with a most stylish racket bag but it is what she pulled from it which was fascinating. Imperious strokeplay, icy demeanour, high-pitched shriek. Well armed, she did not so much beat Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in their quarter-finals this Australian afternoon as school her. Think of it as a dismissal. An education in the art of match play. Sharapova won 6-3, 6-2 and no one dared ask her to twirl later.
Bouchard is the No. 7 seed and is 20; Sharapova, who seems to have been here forever, is the second seed and only 27. Both women are not without superfluous similarity. They are a sponsor's delight, they strike the ball as if it has personally offended them, they are attractive yet pretty ferocious, they both wish to hog the baseline, they both have a strong fan base. Bouchard has the Genie Army, Maria has the SharaFamily.
A Williams wins and it is a sweet surprise
A sister act had become a solo act. Williams in tennis had come to mean Serena. But singular has returned to plural. Venus Williams, a tennis footnote, has returned to the conversation. The older Williams is the slimmer Williams, the taller Williams, the quieter Williams, but she is no longer the forgotten Williams.
Venus Williams last won a grand slam title at Wimbledon 2008 and since then Serena has won 10. Venus has not been in even the quarter-finals of a grand slam since 2010. Then, last night, a calendar flipped back and she returned to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 defeat of Agnieszka Radwanska.
Federer departs, a tournament temporarily deflates
Alighting on Saturday morning at Richmond Station, a sneakered, sun-screened, back-packing army walks down Olympic Boulevard, pulled by the players at work at Melbourne Park. The Pied Piper has gone, but still they come. Sport, as Roger Federer knows, is no fairy tale.
Yet the measure of Federer lies in the understated mourning that follows his exit. Even Sweden's Mats Wilander, winner of three Australian Opens, three French Opens and one US Open, tells the Straits Times: "He's the one you miss the most."
Nishikori waits for his time to come
Tadahiro Yoshimatsu, 55, rises from his desk in the press room and takes a short stroll. The veteran Japanese writer for the Nikkan Sports News is counting reporters for me. Once, he says, five or six reporters from his nation showed up at the Australian Open. Now, his stroll done, he returns to say: "Over 20 this year. Just in print".
The reason for this change is just entering court No. 16, stalked by a camera, clad in brown shorts, a hairband on his head. It is 1pm and Kei Nishikori has one hour to apply polish to his game.
Sporting Smyczek represents the best part of sport
Sitting at Melbourne airport, his Australian Open over, his flight to America delayed, amidst the clanking of restaurant cutlery, Tim Smyczek laughs on Skype as he's interviewed by Melbourne Age writer Peter Hanlon and me.
He's a "little bit surprised" by the attention he's got. He's 27, he played five sets with Rafael Nadal on Wednesday night, he lost, yet this man somewhat unheard of is now memorable, this player unheralded now has a phone full of congratulatory texts, this athlete ranked No.112 is now widely applauded.