Commentary

Breakthroughs of Tsonga and Hantuchova among top Aussie moments

Maria Sharapova was unstoppable while Novak Djokovic was spectacular. But the year's first Slam offered up much more than its newest titlists. Bonnie D. Ford identifies the highs, and lows, from the Land of Oz.

Updated: January 29, 2008, 5:13 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Maria SharapovaAP Photo/Rob GriffithNothing was out of reach for Maria Sharapova who won her third career Grand Slam title.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Leftovers, random thoughts and odds and ends on the 2008 Australian Open, one of the most captivating Grand Slam events in ages:

No Djoke: We understand that newly minted champion Novak Djokovic wants to be known for his tennis and not for being a "clown," as he put it. With the way he played at this tournament, the former shouldn't be a problem, and we don't think he should be asked to do impersonations on demand after a match anymore. But we hope the Djoker doesn't completely lose his sense of humor or willingness to display it in public. Tennis has enough self-seriousness.

ER: The first Slam of the season took a toll on the women's top 10. Three players -- Justine Henin (inflamed cartilage, knee), Jelena Jankovic (back, assorted other problems) and Venus Williams (thigh) had injuries that affected their play late in the tournament.

A-OK: Rafael Nadal, when asked how he's feeling compared to the end of the 2007 season:"My body is perfect, no? Physically speaking."

Payday: Runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's $607,000 check is more than his cumulative career prize money in four previous years as a pro. Should keep the best smile in tennis going for a while.

Payday II: Lindsay Davenport passed Steffi Graf to become the highest-earning female athlete in history ($21,910,559) but she'll have to keep winning to hold off Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam, who's a mere $1.1 million behind at $20,837,501. Davenport turned pro in 1993, the year before Sorenstam.

Writing-on-the-wall match: Maria Sharapova's second-round cakewalk over Davenport was an early warning sign of her superb form and focus here.

[+] EnlargeFabrice Santoro
Ella Ling/BE ImagesAfter setting an Open era record playing his 62nd Grand Slam event, Fabrice Santoro lost in the second round to Roger Federer.
Sideshow: We would have liked to see Fabrice Santoro on a show court instead of an outer court when he made his 62nd Grand Slam appearance to break Andre Agassi's record.

Best non-Santoro moment on an outer court: Vince Spadea's chicken dance after he prevented the sky from falling in a second round five-setter against German qualifier Denis Gremelmayr. "I don't feel injured, I feel delirious!" Spadea told reporters.

Most unfortunate overreaction: Australian police doused obstreperous Greek fans with pepper spray but hit other innocent fans as well, including some children.

Most overblown story: The grainy, year-old footage of Marcos Baghdatis chanting political slogans at a barbecue shouldn't have become, even briefly, an international incident.

Most exciting stretch of the tournament: Seeing Nadal and Federer upset in the semifinals within a day of each other was novel, but this distinction has to go to the 31 hours that encompassed Philipp Kohlschreiber's upset of Andy Roddick, Janko Tipsarevic's near-upset of Federer in five sets, and the Baghdatis-Lleyton Hewitt odyssey that played out overnight in Rod Laver Arena.

About that Baghdatis-Hewitt match: Watched three sets live. Walked back to hotel. Turned TV on. Couldn't turn it off. Watched until the end. Favorite moment: Seeing Baghdatis look around the arena, smiling incredulously, before his last service game, soaking in the unique atmosphere. Note to self: Never EVER leave an ongoing match after 3 in the morning.

Public service announcement: At the end of a tirade against chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph, Roddick asked whether he was a"dropout," then turned to the stands and shouted,"Stay in school, kids, or you'll end up being an umpire."

Worst timing, press conference question: Deep into the postmatch interview after winning his first Grand Slam, Djokovic was asked how to pronounce his last name.

Best men's match: Tough call, but we'll go with Federer-Tipsarevic.

Best women's match: For drama and quirkiness, Jankovic's first-round match against 17-year-old Austrian slugger Tamira Paszek, where she had to fight off three match points.

Best coiffure: Casey Dellacqua's"Nan," the grandma who tucked an Australian flag in her wavy red hair.

Notable breakthroughs: Djokovic and Tsonga win this going away for obvious reasons, but honorable mention to Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska for making her first Slam quarterfinal; to Ana Ivanovic for beating Venus Williams for the first time; to Daniela Hantuchova for making her first Slam semi, even if it didn't go so well after that; to Kohlschreiber, for showing one of the most effective backhands we've seen in a while; and late-blooming Israeli doubles duo Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, for winning their first Grand Slam title.

[+] EnlargeRoger Federer
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesRoger Federer's loss to Novak Djokovic was his first straight sets defeat at a Grand Slam since his loss to Gustavo Kuerten in the 2004 French Open.

Ambivalent challenger: Could anyone look more annoyed than Federer when he asks for Hawk-Eye review of a line call? Then again, we're fairly annoyed with the way challenges have become group decisions, as most players now check with the folks in their boxes, the chair umpire or even the other player before pulling the trigger.

Doubles duty: The Williams sisters suffered a rare triple defeat in one 24-hour period as they each lost in singles and fell together in doubles, all in the quarterfinals. Commentator and multiple Slam doubles winner Pam Shriver said she thought the doubles possibly "ended up dragging them down. If you only play in Olympic years and you're not used to it, it can be a distraction. It's hard to saddle up and play twice as many events."

Biggest question marks going forward, women's side: Can Amelie Mauresmo and Nadia Petrova, who both seemed dispirited about their games as they departed Melbourne, play well enough to regain the top 10?

Biggest question mark going forward, men's side: How will Federer respond to this fortnight -- and will he hire a coach?

We know why: Serena Williams, on her Super Bowl pick: "I have to go with Eli [Manning]. I have to go for the younger sibling."

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. E-mail her at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.