What we learned in Melbourne over 14 hot days

So, now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to mull over the results of this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne, the time comes to ask, what did we learn?

We learned that Stanislas Wawrinka is for real. Yes, he played through a less stacked half of the draw. Yes, he was the beneficiary of a Rafael Nadal injury in the final. However, even if he had lost to Rafa in the final, he still went through three-time defending champion Djokovic in the quarters and handled the always-dangerous Tomas Berdych in the semis. He was resilient, he was unrelenting, used every tool he has to his advantage (mainly forehand, serve, and movement) and didn’t attempt to do anything he couldn’t do. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the recipe for winning the Australian Open.

We learned that Li Na, who had already proved that she is here to stay with her consistent appearances and slightly less consistent victories in Grand Slams, who had already served as a trailblazer for tennis in her home country of China, who already had secured her place in history with her French Open victory, cemented her place in history as one of the best players of this generation. The outcome was never in doubt, as Li powered through her backhands, totally overpowering Dominika Cibulkova en route to the title. When Li is on, her ground strokes and serve are among the best that there is. She doesn’t do anything fancy, she just transfers power from her legs better than almost anyone else in the game, and this is the source of all the pace that she generates on her forehand and backhand. She isn’t particularly tall and so doesn’t have an overpowering serve. Her game is enough by itself, and her results prove it. Li Na, I wish you much more success.

We learned that Dominika Cibulkova’s first appearance in a final has to be regarded as a good thing, but especially in the women’s game, and especially in the case of someone as unproven as Cibulkova, has to be regarded as a fluke until she can prove otherwise. I don’t mean a fluke in the sense that she didn’t deserve to be in it, because she did. I mean it in the sense that it’s difficult to tell whether she has arrived in a real sense or if this was merely the result of two weeks of excellent play and some lucky breaks, which, if we’re honest, are both prerequisites for reaching the final. To her immense credit, she looked awesome until the final. It just remains to be seen if she can replicate it.

We learned that Ana Ivanovic is pretty much back to the form that netted her the French Open in 2008 and the world number one ranking, too. She looked terrific in beating Serena Williams, consistently picking on Williams’ backhand, which happened to be having an off day, to great effect right up until the end. She regained flashes of the form that made her great a few years ago, then was so inexplicably lost over the next few years. It will be interesting to see if she can reenter the conversation again; she was such a promising talent back in 2008.

We learned, or rather had reinforced to us, that outside of Serena Williams, there isn’t much to get excited about in terms of Americans. However, this isn’t necessarily all a bad thing, as the diversity of contenders in the women’s game especially, gives us new players to root for every time a tournament rolls around. It’s nice to have favorites, sure. But how much fun was it to pull for Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon last year as she took out favored Serena, only to come up short to another perennial contender in Marion Bartoli? Simultaneously, how great was it to see Victoria Azarenka appear on the warpath and then get totally derailed, then see her vanquisher be similarly taken out in later rounds? The unpredictability of the women’s game is one of the best things it has going for it, and is something that the men’s game just can’t match, at least right now.

They got bounced in the third round by the eventual runners-up.

The Bryan brothers were ousted early Down Under despite being pre-tournament favorites.

We learned that on the doubles side of the draw, there can be similar unpredictability, especially when there are only three sets played. The Bryan brothers went down early, as did Leander Paes and his partner, Radek Stepanek. The Bryans lost to the eventual runners-up, but understand unpredictability to mean that the top four seeds all lost, and lost before the quarterfinals. That, friends and readers, is unpredictable. The number one seed, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, took home the title on the women’s side, but I maintain that had the William stuck with it, that might have been different.

It was a supremely entertaining tournament with unexpected heroes, plenty of drama, lots of heat, and champions who deserved their crowns.

Keep it here for updates as the season progresses and we move toward Paris in the spring.