February 3, 2010

The State of the World Is Changing!

So it's been a couple of days now since the last ball was hit at the Australian Open, but it sure feels a lot longer than that. Or maybe it's just that things seem so different. Okay, sure, Roger Federer and Serena Williams are still the top players in the sport, but some others shifts portend a whole new era.

Most notably Rafael Nadal, whose quarterfinal exit ended his campaign to win a second title in Melbourne, dropped to #4 in the world -- obviously still among the elite, but his lowest ranking since May 2005, just before he won his first French Open. More disturbing is the news that the re-aggravated knee injury he sustained during that match with Andy Murray will keep him out of play for another four weeks; hopefully he'll return in time to defend his title at Indian Wells -- but an absence any longer will start to make me nervous.

Dinara Safina was able to keep her #2 ranking this week but holds onto it by just a hair. Last year's runner up at two Majors doesn't look at all like the player she was then. Nagging back problems that forced her to retire in the fourth round combined with a lackluster performance in Sydney suggests she won't be in top form for some time, and if she can't mimic her performance from Spring '09 -- which brought her trophies in Rome and Madrid -- she'll be giving up her spot near the top soon.

Of course when some lose others must win. Both Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki converted their Aussie Open runs into their highest career rankings, while Marin Cilic and Na Li cracked the top ten for the first time.

But there were, certainly, even bigger movers than that. Maria Kirilenko put her name back on the map by downing Maria Sharapova on her way to the quarters -- she jumped twenty-one spots to #37. Jie Zheng, who ultimately vanquished the Russian, popped fifteen places to #20. On the men's side Lukasz Kubot, who advanced to the fourth round for the first time at a Slam, made the biggest jump among the men to #61.

And, moving in the opposite direction, Jelena Dokic, who had just began to stage a comeback here last year, wasn't able to repear her success and toppled precipitously close to triple digits. Meanwhile not-so-retired Fabrice Santoro, playing in his forty-sixth consecutive Major (spanning four decades), fell victim to Cilic in the first round and forfeited enough points to send him to his lowest ranking since -- get this -- 1997!

We all know the stakes are high at the Grand Slams, so it shouldn't be surprising that players can rise and fall so drastically with just one performance -- one match even. But more so than after any other tournament I can remember, we're seeing a different landscape -- one in which Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina may not be considered the threats they once were, and though the former certainly upsets me more than the latter, I'm not sure I like it!

Of course, it's premature to call for an end to anyone's career, but here's hoping the new era that's ushered in will be just as exciting as the last one!

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