Men’s, women’s tennis on opposite edge

Melbourne: Men’s and women’s tennis are in drastically different phases. The men have a triopoly that could quickly transform into a monopoly if Novak Djokovic stays fresh and focused. The women have something closer to mob rule with new winners emerging at a madcap clip.
In the past 12 Grand Slam tournaments, the women have had eight first-time major singles champions. Joining that list Saturday at the Australian Open was Sofia Kenin, an assured American seeded just 14th. In the past 21 Grand Slam tournaments, the men haven’t had first-time major singles champions.
Nonetheless, the winners in Melbourne did share some common ground. Djokovic and Kenin both had to come back to win in their finals, staring down break points and playing boldly when it mattered most.
Both have been visualising success since their rackets were nearly as tall as they were.
Kenin was a wide-eyed six-year-old in 2005 when a film crew recorded the personal tour she was given of the Miami Open by Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters. A year later, she was giving interviews and talking about becoming No. 1 (why she was giving interviews at age seven is another question).
Djokovic never got that kind of early exposure, but when he was seven, he fashioned a makeshift Wimbledon trophy and staged a mock victory ceremony even though he came from a family of Alpine skiers, not tennis players, in Serbia.
“Visualising that victory was a very powerful source of energy that was paving the way for me to actually achieve that one day,” Djokovic said in December. “It’s 100 per cent possible, but you have to feel it in the heart, not just in your mind.” Perhaps the heart — and a tremendous amount of practice and conditioning — helps explain why men in their 30s continue to dominate. Younger stars such as Dominic Thiem have to know in their heads by now that they have the firepower and skills to rival the Big Three: Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Thiem, 26, has beaten each of them on more than one surface and has beaten Nadal and Djokovic in best-of-five-set Grand Slam play. But he is now 0-3 in Grand Slam finals after his loss to Djokovic late Sunday night. It was a five-setter that was more epic in length than mood, with Thiem failing to push Djokovic for long at the end of the fourth set or the fifth. The suspense never approached the high-anxiety levels of last year’s Wimbledon final, when Djokovic beat Federer in a tiebreaker after they won 12 games each in the fifth set, a first for a Wimbledon final. Sunday’s duel also fell short of the five-set US Open final in September, when Daniil Medvedev, 23, rallied from two sets down to push Nadal remarkably close to his physical limits. But the theme remained the same: the old guard holding off new blood, though now just barely. – Agencies