Sportswriter and broadcaster David Fearnhead, Women's Tennis Blog's friend and long-time contributor, shares his talking points from the opening day of the Australian Open. He now presents the sports radio show The Only Game in Town every Thursday night on Ribble FM.
There was something not quite right about Simona Halep when she took her seat to face the media pre-tournament. Dressed all in black, her hair pulled back into a tight bun, the familiar sweep of those iconic eyebrows, but look closely and there was something which struck me as an ominous sign. It was less than a centimetre large and it was lurking on her top lip — a small duo of cold sores. Now I’m not normally one to make comments on a player's skin condition, but cold sores are an indication of a body under stress. Fatigue and stress remain the most common cause for a breakout of the virus which ordinarily lays dormant in the body.
In her pre-match press conference, Halep said she’d come earlier to Australia to acclimatise to the heat. She declared herself fit, unconvincingly, and made no mention to the knee injury which has niggled her since November. The same knee injury which would see her hobble out of this Australian Open. Her opponent Shelby Rogers is a big hitter, this Halep knew and when asked pre-game what she would do to counteract this, her reply was a simple one, "Be fast".
Speed is Halep’s major weapon, no one can match her for foot-speed on tour, which is why any knee injury is such a worry. There was also the result last year in Melbourne, another first-round defeat. A few seem to have forgotten that that loss was to Zhang Shuai, who went on to reach the quarterfinals. Maybe it seemed to be weighing on Halep’s mind, and despite being a Halep fan, I went and put my money on Rogers to win.
The American’s showing in Paris last year proved she’s got the mentality to handle the majors. With a favourable draw she could progress all the way to the fourth round where she could face another American in Venus Williams. That’s if the elder Williams sister can make it through.
One player I had my doubts about was Eugenie Bouchard. Not because I doubted her ability, but because of late she’s been all over social media. I worried that her talent on the court would be overlooked by that other great fortune — her looks.
The marketing people love a good-looking tennis player, especially a blonde. Bouchard’s off-court commitments, magazine cover-shoots, sponsor commitments, and modelling shoots were seemingly endless and everywhere. How, I asked myself, could she stay focused on her game with all that going on.
I never feared that she was in danger of loving herself a little too much and becoming conceited. She seems, as most Canadians do, to be a very pleasant person indeed. I disliked that for every off-court photo there was a dozen or more trolls looking to point out her on-court failings.
All that was halted in Sydney with an impressive run the to the semifinals where she lost to the eventual winner Johanna Konta. I just hope the marketing people will leave her alone long enough that she can concentrate doing what she does even better than looking good, which is winning tennis matches. A 6-0 6-4 opener is hopefully a sign she is doing just that.