2017 Australian Open – The Wacky Slam

MELBOURNE, Australia – Professional tennis is a slippery, fast-evolving species as we discovered again last year when both No. 1-ranked players dramatically lost their crowns at season’s end.

Since then, it’s been a swirling series of events that have left the ruling hierarchy very much in question.

On the women’s side, three former Grand Slam champions all experienced significant turbulence: Petra Kvitova survived a terrifying stabbing incident and could miss six months, Victoria Azarenka gave birth to a son and hopes to return later this year, while Maria Sharapova continues to serve a drug suspension that will end in April.

Thirty-somethings Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the greatest players of their generation who both missed Slams after injuries, prepared to test themselves in this disjointed Australian Open. Juan Martin del Potro, another major champion recovering from injury, is also among the missing. So is American Madison Keys, a top-10 player.

“The way this offseason has been going,” Mary Carillo, the Tennis Channel broadcaster said recently, “it’s hard for me to act like I know what I’m talking about on TV.”

In recent years, have there ever been more curious questions going into a season? Famously, the Australian Open is called the “Happy Slam,” but under these fairly infamous circumstances that might require a tweak.

Welcome to the “Wacky Slam.”

Perhaps it was inevitable the fortnight’s first match on Rod Laver Arena would feature a substantial upset. No. 4 seed Simona Halep was bludgeoned Monday by American Shelby Rogers, 6-3, 6-1, only 75 minutes after the tournament had commenced.

Halep complained afterwards of a sore knee. Rogers, a 24-year-old from Charleston, South Carolina, who made a stunning run to the quarterfinals last year at Roland…