No Djok Down Under

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Known as the Happy Slam, the 2011 Australian Open couldn’t have left too many casual tennis fans around the world or executives in Bristol smiling.

The hope of defending champion Roger Federer looking to prevent the “Rafa Slam” in his first meeting with Rafael Nada in a Grand Slam final since the 2009 Aussie event deteriorated Down Under.

Nadal’s pursuit of becoming the first man to hold all four majors since Rod Laver achieved the second of his two calendar Grand Slams in 1969 cratered in straight sets to the combination of the effects of a lingering virus, a hamstring injury and the steely play of David Ferrer in the quarters.

Instead of the Rafa Slam, Ferrer will look to reach his initial Grand Slam final against another competitor looking for his first major, Andy Murray. The Scot, who lost to Federer in the final a year ago, is looking to end the UK’s 75-year Slam drought that extends to Fred Perry’s U.S Open title in 1936.

World No. 2 Federer, seeking a fifth title in Melbourne, went down under in straights as well to Novak Djokovic. The third-seeded Serb, fresh off leading his nation to the Davis Cup in December, backed up his win over the all-time Slam king in a five sets at the U.S. Open last September in much more facile form in Melbourne. Djokovic secured the first-set tiebreak, then regained his composure after going up and then down a break to trail Fed 5-2 in the second. Novak’s big forehands, retooled serve, speed and drop-shot gets melded with Federer getting caught betwixt and between his defensive inclinations and the more offensive tactics espoused by his coach Paul Annacone to give the 2008 Aussie winner the edge to win five straight games.

Not scoring enough easy points off his serve and being on the wrong end of most rallies didn’t help the Federer cause, which died after he couldn’t convert three break chances in the second game of the third set, when “The Djoker” followed with a break of his own. Fed returned the favor in the eighth game after a long rally and a net cord set up a pass. But it was too little, too late, as Roger was rocked in the very next game and then Novak eventually held serve to win 7-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Hence, this Oz Open will mark the first time since the 2008 event (and only second time since the 2005 tournament) that neither of tennis’ reigning royalty will appear in a Slam final. Their absence might make it a little tougher for Americans to stroke the 16- (East Coast) and 19-hour (West Coast) differences aside and watch the time zone-challenged final live on ESPN2 in Sunday’s wee morning hours. ESPN2 and Slam partner Tennis Channel will present encore options.

On the women’s side of the net, many, including ESPN analysts Darren Cahill and Pam Shriver, questioned No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki’s readiness to capture her first major. Still, not too many had Li Na making her first Grand Slam final as she dropped the Dane, who held a match point while serving at 5-4 in the  second set, in three, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Na will look to become the first Chinese woman to win a major and make the world’s largest nation even prouder of her performance at the Asia/Pacific Slam if she can prevent Kim Clijsters, who dropped No. 2 Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3, from collecting her second consecutive major and fourth overall (she won the 2005, 2009 and  2010 tourneys in Flushing Meadow) on Saturday morning. Clijsters lost to the now retired-again Justine Henin in the 2004 Down Under final.

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