The new normal not so normal
So, six weeks into the 2014 tennis season -- in the midst of not-so-fabulous February -- what do we have here, exactly?
Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka, who has quietly played his career in the shadow of Roger Federer, is a first-time Grand Slam singles champion. Playing in her fourth major final in four years, Li Na is now a two-time winner. They both remain undefeated in this new year.
Wawrinka came into Melbourne with a combined record of 2-27 against Nadal and Djokovic but became the first man to beat them both in the same Grand Slam.
"My confidence, my game, my serve -- I can beat the top-10 guys now," said Wawrinka, who is suddenly the ATP World Tour's third-ranked player.
Frankly, at this early juncture there are already more questions than answers.
Last year, Williams and Nadal won four of the last six Grand Slams singles titles, both taking Roland Garros and the US Open, so there's still time for the return of normalcy. But ...
" Ana Ivanovic, who sort of disappeared after winning the 2008 French Open, beat Williams in the Australian quarterfinals and has won nine of 10 matches.
" Federer, left for dead at 32, played more aggressively than he has in ages and, with a new coach and racket, reached the semifinals.
Del Potro's right wrist forced him to miss all but three tournaments in 2010, but now his left wrist is a concern. The 25-year-old Argentine won his first event of the year, in Sydney, but the change of surface and different balls in Melbourne bothered that vital hinge. He felt it in his first-round victory over American Rhyne Williams, but after losing to Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets del Potro shut it down.
He flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and conferred with Dr. Richard Berger, who gave him an injection and told him to take three weeks off. Del Potro, ranked No. 4, surfaced earlier this week in Rotterdam, along with eight other players in the ATP World Tour's top 20. He's expected to begin defense of his title there Wednesday.
For Rafa, it will be at least another week on the shelf.
Last week, he withdrew from Buenos Aires, citing his back injury and a stomach virus that curtailed training. Standing in front of his trophy-laden mantle at home in Mallorca, he offered fans a brief message in Spanish. Nadal, shrugging his shoulders and looking quite sad, said he would try to be ready for the inaugural Brasil Open, the country's first ATP 500 event, which begins Feb. 17.
Another one and done
Defending champion Italy left its two best players at home but still managed to defeat the United States 3-1 in Fed Cup play.
With Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci sitting this one out, Karin Knapp and Camila Giorgi were enough to send Mary Joe Fernandez's young team into a world group playoff April 19-20 at home against France.
With the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens unavailable, it was left to Christina McHale (21 years old), Madison Keys (18), Alison Riske (23) and Lauren Davis (20). Davis and Keys who won America's lone point, in a dead doubles rubber after Italy clinched with Knapp's second singles victory.
A week earlier, the U.S. men lost to Great Britain 3-1 in Davis Cup and will have to win its world group playoff in September to have a chance to compete for the 2015 crown.
Germany -- which thrashed the Slovak Republic, playing at home, 3-1 -- could be the best team this year with a healthy Andrea Petkovic, Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges. Italy will be strong, provided Errani and Vinci return to the lineup.
Going forward, which team is the favorite for this year's Davis Cup championship?
After letting it be known they would sit out for their first-rounder against Serbia, Wawrinka and Federer made an appearance and triumphed over guys named Bozoljac and Lajovic for an eventual 3-2 victory. The Swiss will meet Kazakhstan in the April quarterfinals.
Two-time defending champions Czech Republic will play at Japan, which produced its first World Group victory (over Canada) since it was formed in 1981.
Great Britain, which beat the U.S. in San Diego, is into the quarters for the first time since 1986 and will travel to Italy. France hosts Germany, secure in the knowledge it has won the past six ties against Teutonic tennis.
Li Na: 12-0 (1.000)
Stanislas Wawrinka: 11-0 (1.000)
Rafael Nadal: 11-1 (.917)
Ana Ivanovic: 9-1 (.900)
Serena Williams: 7-1 (.875)
Gael Monfils: 12-2 (.857)
Roger Federer: 9-2 (.818)
Fabio Fognini: 9-2 (.818)
Ekaterina Makarova: 9-2 (.818)
Juan Martin del Potro: 5-1 (.833)
Au revoir, Marion
Turns out, the quirky 29-year-old Frenchwoman is actually finished.
After the Paris final between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sara Errani, Bartoli was honored and received flowers, a photo collage and a video montage of her career high lights. She will always be a Grand Slam champion.
Dr. Ivo lights it up
Mark Philippoussis hit the same number 19 years ago in Kuala Lumpur against Byron Black.
Karlovic won 91 percent of his first-serve points and was never taken to break point. His previous best for a three-set match was 38, seven years ago against Tomas Berdych in Basel. In 2009, Karlovic produced 78 aces against Radek Stepanek in a David Cup match that went to 16-14 in five sets.
Seven of Karlovic's 11 sets through the Zagreb event have been decided by a tiebreaker.
They've played in each of the past three tournaments they've entered.
Istomin, 27, who represents Uzbekistan, lost to Tursinov in the quarterfinals at Sydney, but rallied to beat him in the second round of the Australian Open (before losing to Novak Djokovic in the next round).
Last week in Montpellier, Istomin handled Tursinov again, in straight sets, before falling to eventual winner Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals.
Although they were both playing higher-seeded players, believe it or not, there was a possibility they could face each other a fourth time, in the second round at Rotterdam.
Not so fast, Indian Wells
The top-10 ranked men are scheduled to appear next month at Indian Wells and nine of the top 10 women. Guess who is the exception?
Yes, Serena Williams will continue her boycott of the tournament -- that now stretches back 13 years -- after she and sister Venus said they were victims of racist remarks there in 2001.
Serena was coy at the Australian Open, hinting that she might drop her personal ban after watching a film about the life of Nelson Mandela. Nope. Her carefully crafted announcement seemed to be another tweak of IW management.
"After careful consideration, I will not return to the Indian Wells BNP event this year," Williams said. "I send my best wishes to everyone involved with the tournament."