Column: Feelgood stories emerge from Australian Open
The top stories in what will be our final Weekend That Was (tune in to a big change in the format in this space Saturday):
5. In a game in which Stephen Curry scores 49 points and Kyrie Irving delivers 37 points, Curry’s Golden State Warriors defeat the Boston Celtics, 109-105, Saturday night in Oakland, Calif.
4. It’s a sad Saturday along Tobacco Road as No. 4 Duke loses a tough ACC battle with No. 2 Virginia, 65-63, in Durham, while in Chapel Hill, North Carolina State outlasts North Carolina in a barn-burner, 95-91.
3. The Pro Bowl is a close game with Oakland’s Derek Carr delivering an 18-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker with 1:31 left in the game, lifting the AFC to a 24-23 win over the NFC in Orlando on Sunday.
2. Tiger Woods gets to play the entire weekend in his return to golf, shooting 3-under par for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, seven shots behind co-leaders Jason Day, Alexander Noren and Ryan Palmer. Day wins the event Monday morning in the continuation of a playoff.
1. It’s an exciting championship weekend for the Australian Open with Caroline Wozniacki beating Simona Halep in three sets, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4, for her first major, then Roger Federer holding back Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, for his record 20th Grand Slam singles title.
Our topic of discussion: 1. Her first, his mark in history.
Some things are worth waiting for. In the case of Caroline Wozniacki, it was that first major championship.
At the beginning of the decade, Wozniacki was considered one of the best players in the world and a threat to the crown worn by Serena Williams. She climbed to No. 1 in the world, but there was one problem – she had not won a major championship. Then her game began to decline toward the middle of the decade and on top of everything else, the Danish tennis star saw her engagement to golf star Rory McIlroy come to an end.
Wozniacki had to reinvent her game, and by the end of 2014, she was in her first Grand Slam final in five years, losing in straight sets to Williams at the U.S. Open. She struggled again and didn’t get to a semifinal until the 2016 U.S. Open when eventual champion Angelique Kerber took her down in straight sets.
Though she was a quarterfinalist at last year’s French Open, nothing gave an indication that she was going to have the tournament she did these past two weeks in Melbourne. Facing another player who had never won a championship in Slovakian Simona Halep – who had struggled with an ankle injury throughout the event after battling through a pair of marathon matches leading up to the final – including a 15-13 third-set win in the third round against American Lauren Davis.
Halep gutted out a second-set win and put everything she had in her third set against Wozniacki, even taking time to get medical treatment in between the second and third sets. But Wozniacki had all the answers and at long last, she had her first major championship.
Now, sure, it’s easy to say that she won WS – without Serena Williams as she gets back into shape after giving birth last summer. Williams returns to the French Open in the spring, so once again, the better players in the world have to step up their games.
Williams has 23 Grand Slam titles, one behind all-time leader Margaret Court and one ahead of the great Steffi Graf. They were the only players in history to have over 20 Grand Slam championships ... that is, until this weekend.
Then Roger Federer came along.
He passed Pete Sampras’ record for career men’s singles titles and just kept going. He got to 17, then his career got into a bit of a rut as players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray began to take over. Federer had knee surgery in July 2016 and made the decision at 35 years old to slow his game down, selecting to play in Slam events he felt comfortable playing.
That meant there is no more French Open for the time being, but the other three majors are in play. Last year, he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles to get to 19 majors. And on Sunday, he was in a battle with Marin Cilic, a big-hitting, 6-foot-6 Croatian and 2014 U.S. Open champion. The two battled it for over three hours before Federer got control of the match in the fifth set and took down his challenger, 6-1.
Federer’s renaissance is that of what Jimmy Connors did in the 1991 U.S. Open by getting to the semifinals at 39 years old or what Ken Rosewall did in his late 30s in the early-to-mid 1970s. There’s no reason to believe he can’t add to his win total the next few years. Nadal and Djokovic are going to rebound from injuries and finally challenge Federer.
Tennis had an exciting weekend in Melbourne. The sport is still in good hands.
Here’s hoping every weekend is like that during Grand Slam events.
Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.