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Volume 24 No. 156
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Australian Open Women's Final Between Li, Azarenka Has Not Sold Out

The Australian Open women's final between Li Na and Victoria Azarenka "was not sold out" as of Thursday despite tickets having been "on sale for almost four months," according to Richard Hinds of the Melbourne AGE. With adult tickets costing AU$294.90 and children's tickets AU$279.90, "maybe the brevity of some women's finals had persuaded would-be ticket buyers the event did not stack up on a dollar-for-play basis." The "value-for-money final was supposed to have been" between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. But for the WTA Tour, trading Sharapova and Williams "for a popular woman from the lucrative Chinese market" in Li means "no commercial damage has been done." Sharapova's semifinal defeat "might even have a counter-intuitive outcome." The absence of the "world's most marketable female athlete (and, particularly, her shriek) will make the final more enticing for some" (Melbourne AGE, 1/25). In N.Y., Christopher Clarey writes Li's return to the final "presumably will spark greater interest in China than in Melbourne" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/24).

SLOANE STREET: Azarenka is making her second straight trip to the Australian Open final after beating Sloane Stephens late last night. Stephens made her first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal after defeating Serena Williams, and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said this is "what people need to be excited about, a 19-year-old American tennis prodigy in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event." Cowlishaw: "It’s something we’re not going to see with the men for a long time.” The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said Stephens is the “first hope that America has had since the ascendency” of the Williams sisters and the "aging of Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez.” Ryan: “This is really an exciting moment in American women’s tennis to think that there’s somebody rising.” ESPN’s Pablo Torre said, “It’s important to remember that an American teenager hasn’t made the semifinal of a major since 2001, when Serena did it” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/23).
NBC's Natalie Morales said Stephens “has clearly won a place on the tennis world stage” (“Today,” NBC, 1/24). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, “Give Sloane Stephens some credit, this is a big-time win." However, he added, "Does it mean that a star is born? I’ll give you two words: Melanie Oudin” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/23).

THE WIZARDRY OF OZ: SI's L. Jon Wertheim writes the Australian Open is a "two-week bacchanalia masquerading as a Grand Slam tennis tournament." It is the “infield of the Daytona 500, only with the rhythmic thwock of tennis racket meeting ball instead of the Doppler effect as the sound track,” and it is the “way all big-time global sporting events ought to be.” A commonly-held belief in tennis is that each major “exudes the vibe of its host city.” The U.S. Open is a “carnival of chaos and energy that, like New York City, exhilarates some and repels others.” Wimbledon is “brimming with tradition and elegance,” while the French Open is “fashionable and chic and moody and slightly arrogant.” But the Australian Open “comes closest of all to approximating its nation’s character,” being “whimsical but pragmatic, dignified but unrestrained.” Above all, there is a “quintessential Aussie emphasis ... on having fun.” Tournament Dir Craig Tiley said, “Look, go have a good time. Buy yourself a drink, sit out on a (public) beanbag. You want to shout for a player? Shout. You’re hot? Go stand in the mister.” Wertheim notes the tourney is “an exercise in populism.” It is affordable and “on free TV” in Australia, and remains “resolutely middle-class.” Flags at Melbourne Park “might as well be part of the dress code.” Last week an “army of Serbs came swaddled in blue and red and serenaded” defending champion Novak Djokovic, while a “cluster of Greeks came in blue stripes to cheer little-known Eleni Daniilidou” (SI, 1/28 issue).

HAVING A BALL:’s Peter Bodo wrote, “I don’t know if the Australian Open is the best Grand Slam or not, unless by ‘best’ you mean ‘most fun,’ ‘most comfortable,’ or ‘least stressful.’” Those things “it certainly is.” Striving for those distinctions “may not yield much in the way of gravitas -- notice that [not] many players have said this is the title they most want to win -- but the formula has paid big dividends.” The tournament has “clearly won the public relations war” (, 1/22).