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Don’t Count Out Serena Yet
Hot Takedown
 

First, we recap the results of the Australian Open. Naomi Osaka earned her fourth Grand Slam after defeating Serena Williams in the semifinals and Jen Brady in the finals. This result certainly doesn’t mean Serena is done with tennis — no matter how much her cutting short a post-match press conference might suggest otherwise. She played some really complete games to get to the semifinals but was visibly not at her best against Osaka … who isn’t unbeatable, either: Serena has done it twice, in fact. And Williams still has a legitimate shot at Wimbledon to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic’s miraculous return to form continues the almost comedic dominance of The Big Three — combined, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 58 of the last 68 Grand Slams — and no one in the next generation looks close to beating them. That has to change eventually, but it’s hard to see how it will anytime soon.

Next, we turn to college basketball in anticipation of the madness about to descend in a few weeks. The blue bloods you would expect to see at the top of the men’s bracket — Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas — have faltered this year in ways that can only partly be blamed on the pandemic. But it’s made room for teams from the Big Ten and the SEC. Alabama is having its best college basketball season ever, which honestly feels like too much sports success for one school. On the women’s side, UConn has returned to its No. 1 position in no small part thanks to superstar freshman Paige Bueckers, and many of the other top contenders are familiar names. But there have been some nice surprises, like Texas A&M at No. 3 (though the Aggies weren’t exactly expected to fail, given they were ranked 13th at the start of the season). Despite the irregularities of the season because of COVID-19, and in particular the lack of the home-court advantage so crucial to college basketball, we may have a more accurate look at how all these teams will perform in the tournament. If so, it’s going to be a fascinating March.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil looks at an article written by former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden about the ways in which hockey goalies have gotten larger and larger and the NHL net has stayed the same, slowly changing the tactics of goal-scoring in the sport. If you crunch the numbers (and of course Neil did), it’s true that goalies have gotten bigger in the past few decades. But the rate of goal-scoring hasn’t dramatically suffered, and current goalie tactics have prompted shooters to get more accurate at the kind of shots they can make. As long as goals don’t dwindle to soccer levels, the Hot Takedown crew is fine with keeping the net right where it is.

What we’re looking at this week:

  • Naomi Osaka’s dominance, Novak Djokavic’s crown, and more Australian Open takeaways.
  • Alabama is looking like an SEC powerhouse … in basketball.
  • The pandemic hasn’t stopped these four rising stars in women’s college basketball.

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.

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