Women’s final does tennis proud
What a shot in the arm the Australian Open women’s final gave tennis last weekend. German Angelique Kerber won her first Grand Slam title, beating the indomitable Serena Williams in a wonderful three-set match.
The quality of the tennis, and the players’ sportsmanship, was timely.
Tennis has been going through grim times, with the spectre of match-fixing settling over the sport. Many big-name players are suspected of match-fixing and the integrity of some matches, including at the professional tournaments in Auckland, is being questioned.
There is more to come on that saga.
So tennis needed a lift and the Kerber-Williams match provided it.
The leading male players in recent years – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – are totally respectful of each other and seem to be interesting, decent people.
For example, Murray sat through the women’s final in Melbourne so he could watch his brother, Jamie, play the men’s doubles final, even though that match didn’t finish till after midnight and he had his own men’s final with Djokovic looming the next day.
And Djokovic? He watched the women’s final on television and then tweeted (at 12.41am!) his congratulations to both women for their play and their sportsmanship.
Compare that to the early 1980s, when John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl were the big three. They couldn’t stand each other.
At press conferences they were reluctant to even mention each other’s names, and were often snide. It was ugly.
At that time Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert were the best women’s players. They had a long and fierce rivalry – they met 80 times in tournaments – but became good off-court friends, even going on skiing holidays together.
Today some of the leading women are prima donnas – spoilt, childish and entirely self-centred.
That’s what made the Williams-Kerber match so refreshing.
They applauded each other’s good shots, even while striving mightily to win.
When Kerber finally prevailed, Williams went around the net and hugged her, telling her how well she had played and that she deserved her victory.
They were equally complimentary of each other afterwards at the victory ceremony and the media conferences.
Williams said Kerber had an attitude a lot of people could learn from. ‘‘She stays positive and never gives up. If I couldn’t win the tournament, I’m glad she did,’’ she said.
Kerber described Williams as a champion and a great person who had inspired a generation of players.
The defeat does nothing to diminish Williams’ standing. She has won 21 Grand Slam singles crowns, stretching back to the US Open in 1999.
To still be competing so well at 34 after all she has faced, including a life-threatening illness that took her out of the game for a year, is mind-boggling.
But what a story Kerber is. The 28-year-old left-hander was playing in her 37th Grand Slam event.
In the final, by far the biggest match of her career, she served better than Williams – a shock – retrieved magnificently and never faltered.
Their 130-minute match was a cracker, played in the sort of spirit that women’s tennis desperately needed.
Angelique Kerber, left, and Serena Williams hug after their epic women’s final.