It is sometimes the case that losing a major semifinal or final carries a permanent wound, a pain which is enormous and never fully goes away. An athlete has a chance to record a historic achievement and lets it slip away. A tennis player spends a whole career trying to chase down an opportunity to play for and win a major championship, and falls short because of his or her own failure, more than the opponent’s success. Making major semifinals has been a guarantee for Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, but not for many others.
A major semifinal is a precious gem, to be treasured and maximized. Losing at this stage of a major tournament can carry a profound sting.
As an example, consider Elina Svitolina. She has made a few rare forays to this round of a major but did not play her best in losses to Simona Halep at Wimbledon in 2019 or against Serena Williams at the 2019 U.S. Open. The veteran has still not reached a major final despite being a fixture in the top eight over the past several years. For a player of her caliber, stature, and age, those semifinal losses cut deeply, more than they ever would or could for a teenager who still has her whole career ahead of her, or for a player such as Jennifer Brady, a patient veteran who waited for her chance and developed herself into an improved professional before falling to Naomi Osaka at the 2020 U.S. Open semifinals and then in the 2021 Australian Open final. Osaka was simply too good in those matches. Brady gave everything she had. Her opponent was better. No regrets.
In looking at the 2022 Australian Open women’s semifinals, I don’t think the two semifinal losers, nor the loser of Saturday’s upcoming women’s final, will have any real regrets about not winning this tournament. All four women have already guaranteed that they will view this tournament as a positive; the eventual champion won’t be the only one who thinks that way.
Ashleigh Barty and Danielle Collins will vie for the women’s title. The players they defeated in the semis won’t regret how the semifinals went. They will certainly wish these blowout matches had unfolded differently, but they won’t carry regrets.
Barty and Collins simply threw down an untouchable standard, Barty with her variety and Collins with her relentless laser-focused power. Barty is a World No. 1 player who is performing up to that lofty standard. She is acting and competing as a top seed should. No one needs a more elaborate explanation of what is self-evident. For Keys to get crushed by Barty is no embarrassment or source of shame. She got drilled by the best player in the sport. No regrets.
Collins is a more interesting case. The 2019 Australian Open semifinalist has shown — much like Keys — that when all her shots are firing fluidly, she is a lethal and imposing player. Iga Swiatek felt the full force of Collins’ game in a 4-and-1 rout which, while not what most people expected, is a reflection of how devastating the American’s game can be when properly calibrated.
Maybe only Barty could have stood in the way of Collins’ barrage and thwarted all that power. Saturday, we get to see if the World No. 1 can do precisely that. Meanwhile, Swiatek — though seemingly headed for stardom in this sport — shouldn’t think she ought to have won this match. Collins was that great, that brilliant, that focused. Swiatek made her first hardcourt major semifinal at this tournament. She leaves Melbourne knowing she raised the bar for her career. She took several steps in the right direction.
Much as a Louisiana sports betting player can regret the overly ambitious parlay he made, semifinal losers at major tennis tournaments can regret their choices and responses.
In this case, the 2022 Australian Open women’s semifinal losers will carry no mental baggage from Australia as they go home. The only baggage will be a suitcase.