Much of the talk during this 2014 edition of the Australian Open has centered around the dangerously oppressive heat baking fans, players, officials and ball kids.
One player who succumbed to the heat, said it was “inhumane” to have athletes competing in such extreme conditions. Another, after wobbling thru a match, reported that at one point, he thought he saw Snoopy.
Seeing stars is one thing, but when it’s so hot you begin hallucinating glimpses of Snoopy or any other cartoon character during your match, it’s time to throw in the towel. Actually, a record number of players did just that within the first two or three days.
But though the weather took a delightful change for the better, there’s still plenty heat to discuss.
It’s not that produced by the Australian summer, climate change, global warming, Mother Nature or whatever other Snoopy-citing-induced conditions that may be occurring “down under.”
What heat is it?
Ivanovic displayed a burning desire to win, and brother, she was on fire! Her forehand was smoking! Her strokes were incinerating tennis balls and there was simply nothing the Queen of American tennis could do to stop her.
Simply put, Ana was bringing the heat!
Ivanovic’s superior play notwithstanding, there were other obvious and not so obvious factors contributing to Serena’s disturbing (disturbing in the sense that it was so unexpected by) loss.
Let me explain.
Several weeks prior to the start of the Open, I took a little vacation. Drove 1376 miles from St. Louis, Mo. to Las Vegas, NV. Wanted to take a leisurely scenic drive across country. I took the northern route. Terrifying drive! But that’s another story.
After getting situated, I headed downtown to the famous Las Vegas Strip widely considered the betting mecca of the U.S. The weather was glorious. I spent the first hour just walking the strip floating on the wave of non-stop excitement.
I settled into a very pleasant sports book at Planet Hollywood Resort And Casino. After perusing the various in-progress events of basketball, football, soccer, golf, horse racing etc, I found a two-sided one-sheet publication listing the betting odds available on every future sporting event imaginable.
My first “uh oh” moment occurred when I saw under “Tennis,” Serena Williams was 4-5 to win the Australian Open. “4-5!” I screeched, inaudibly of course. The odds-makers had installed her as the 4 to freaking 5 prohibitive favorite! For the uninitiated, 4-5 means you’d have to bet $5 to win $4 give or take some change.
What’s wrong with that you ask? After all, she is the best female player on the planet and she is coming off one of the greatest seasons of all time last year. She’s healthy, she’s highly motivated, seemingly more serene than ever. What more could a bettor ask for, right?
BETTER ODDS! That’s what!
The list of things that could change in the four weeks leading up to the Open in my view was astronomical. She could step on another piece of glass, wrench another ankle, fall down, break a bone, catch the flu, and on and on…yet odds makers saw fit to offer the public a paltry 4-5.
And, God forbid, if any one of those things had happened which prevented her participation, and you’d made a future bet, your money is non-refundable. Yep, that’s right…nope, can’t get it back.
The risk-for-reward situation in such a case is outrageously terrible…for the bettor anyway. It’s splentastic for the casino.
I like horse racing, was actively involved in the industry as a small-time owner/trainer in the 80’s and still find time to make a few wagers. One thing I’ve learned over the years, and this is a verifiable national statistic, the win percentage for favorites is about 33%. That means that 67% of the time non-favorites win, about twice as often then.
I’d rather be in the 67% group.
The 4-5 odds also indicates that everybody on earth thought Serena was a mortal lock to win the tourney. The pundits were raving about her chances. One commentator went so far as to say, “Serena has to be the favorite in any tournament she enters.”
Of course Serena hears and reads that crap. That translates to pressure, enormous pressure. Couple that with her own expectations and quest to tie Navratilova and Evert with 18 singles slam titles and you have the perfect storm for disaster.
Serena’s shocking first-round loss to Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French was a pressure induced implosion. Her loss to Sloan Stephens last year at Australia, in my mind, was again precipitated by pressure and maybe a bit of injury. And what about her loss last year at Wimbledon? Both Sharapova and Azarenka were eliminated by injury. The tournament was hers for the taking. She promptly lost.
History has a way of repeating itself.
The second “uh oh” for me was Serena’s less-than-dominate win over third-round opponent, Daniela Hantuchova. No disrespect to Hantuchova who has won over 500 singles matches to date, but I expected her to be trounced.
The final “uh oh” was her listless and lucky first-set win over Ivanovic. She appeared lethargic and lead-footed, as though she had resigned herself to loss. It didn’t help that she seemed to no longer have a backhand either.
Maybe there was also some injury issue. Only Serena knows for sure.
I truly think it was again the enormously burdensome pressure to deliver as the freaking 4-5 favorite, you know, when the entire world expects the win.
Whatever the reason, Ana Ivanovic is no longer 0-4 against Serena. She executed a well devised game plan about which she spoke during a pre match interview.
She came out smoking, was undeterred by the first set loss, and went on to smoke the number one female player on the planet.
It wasn’t a fluke.