OPINION: If Maria Sharapova looks particularly fresh when she walks onto the court for her Australian Open semi-final against Li Na on Thursday, do not give credit to the lotions from which the lavishly endorsed Russian makes part of her considerable fortune. The spring in her step will be the consequence of old-fashioned rest.
At the Australian Open so far, Sharapova has performed for a total of just five hours and 35 minutes. The time it has taken to vanquish the five opponents who have won, between them, a mere nine games against the world No 2.
Li, the first Chinese woman to win a grand slam title, was a finalist at the 2011 Australian Open. So it is anticipated Sharapova will, at least, have to work up a sweat to beat her.
However, Sharapova will not have to confront the most arduous task in women's tennis, a match against Serena Williams. The 15 times grand slam champion had, until Wednesday, also progressed effortlessly to the quarter-finals. However, a combination of ankle and back injuries, and the hard-hitting 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, saw Williams take an unexpected tumble. Though not before she had smashed a racquet, the sole sour note during what was an uncharacteristically gracious departure.
Given that Novak Djokovic took five hours and two minutes just to win his third-round match over Stanislas Wawrinka, Sharapova's blink-and-miss-it appearances might once have provoked a repeat of the game's hoary ''equal prizemoney debate''. But with the Australian Open now the richest grand slam tournament - total prizemoney was increased by $4million this year to $30million - it seems everyone is too well paid to quibble over hours-per-dollar rates.
Instead, the debate has been about whether the men's games have been too long - particularly given Djokovic's match against Wawrinka did not finish until 2am on Monday, when many had abandoned the stadium or their television screens. A few, including the German veteran Tommy Haas, have advocated the men playing the best of three sets. More sensibly, others including retired Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic have suggested the men adopt a fifth set tie-breaker, as is the practice at the US Open.
Forgotten is that, at a tournament where Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were once forced to wait to play a final because an American football match had gone into extra time, the fifth set tie-breakers at the US Open were not abandoned because of player fatigue. It was to ensure they fitted into the television rights-holders schedule.
Women or men, short or long, far better to let matches go their natural course.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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