The first two matches of the day on Stadium Court and Grandstand at the Sony Ericsson Open progressed in a similar fashion and showcased four of the ATP Tour’s most eccentric on-court thinkers who are known to overanalyze strategy often inhibiting their own play. Today, however, Janko Tipsarevic and Grigor Dimitrov were able to stay composed and bested their respective opponents, Alexander Dolgopolov and Tomas Berych.
Both matches went the distance as Serb Janko Tipsarevic defeated Ukranian Alexander Dolgopolov on Grandstand while Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov ousted Czech player Tomas Berdych on Stadium Court. The two matches were spinning images of each other as initially Tipsarevic and Dimitrov took their respective first sets, followed by Dolgopolov and Berdych taking their respective second sets. In the end, the Serb and the Bulgarian reclaimed their momentum from their respective first set wins.
On Grandstand court, Tipsarevic took a commanding lead in the first set as he broke Dologopolov twice in the first set and never looked back. He held triple set point serving at 5-4, and hit an easy approach shot winner that Dolgopolov basically watched go past him without attempting any kind of retrieval.
Dolgopolov’s errors continued as he saw himself down 15-40 serving in the fifth game, but managed to come back and win the game with an inside-out forehand planted deeply in the back ad corner.
On serve at 3-3, Dolgopolov easily took the next game with four straight points and ended with a service winner. The two picked up their pace of play as both went for more winners, forcing a tiebreak until Dolgopolov held set point on Tipsarevic’s serve, 5-6, 30-40. After a successful Dolgopolov challenge, the replay of the point saw Dolgopolov hit an unreachable winner to give him the second set at 7-5.
The deciding set saw Tipsarevic re-establish his composure quickly as he broke Dolgopolov twice early on, to go up 3-0. The Ukranian once again began to be visibly frustrated as he began hitting his shoes with his racquet and talking to himself between points. Dolgopolov was granted a generous break point opportunity down 1-4 on Tipsarevic’s serve that he just refused to convert, failing to hit into a basically open court as Tipsarevic was caught off-balance mid-point. Tipsarevic finally edged out his opponent on his first matchpoint and let out a roar as he won 6-2 in the third.
In his post-match interview, Tipsarevic commented on why a lead on Dolgopolov early in a match helps:
“It’s much easier to play against him if you have a break lead, especially against him, because he’s really tricky and you don’t know what to expect. A few of the times he looks like he’s not even trying to win; he’s like pissed at himself for being on the court, and then out of nowhere, it’s love-30 or love-4o on your serve. So I’m happy that in the first and in the third set, I managed the early breaks better. I had semi-chances in the second set which I did not use, and this resulted on him breaking me on forehand-backhand slices.”
Meanwhile on stadium court, a familiar face to the tennis world watched Grigor Dimitrov take on Tomas Berdych. Serena Williams tried her hand at being an inconspicuous onlooker, but with the stands relatively empty, the cameras picked up on her presence right away. The famous onlooker is perhaps exactly what Dimitrov needed in his camp to pull out a forceful first set that finished with an ace to go up 6-3.
But of course, every confidence boost in the young Bulgarians blood causes him to start thinking too much about his shot selection and he was broken straightway in the second game of the second set. The more ‘headcasey’ of the two players would tend to be Berdych, but surprisingly, he kept calm and focused on his own game without being affected by what was across the net.
Dimitrov struggled to hold serve in the fourth game, going to deuce several times, before finally getting on the scoreboard at 1-3. The two continued to hold serve with Berdych moving well and staying composed. Dimitrov meanwhile continued to struggle with his own psyche and shot choice as he time and again would hit a lob instead of a passing shot, or hesitate to go for a clear put away winner. The end of the set saw Dimitrov double fault, giving Berdych the second set, 6-2.
The final set saw a bit of everything as both players fought for every point and took risks at the baseline. There was self-deprecation, yelling and even some slipping and sliding by Dimitrov. The men stayed on each other’s serves not allowing the slightest chance to break, until Dimitrov finally broke in the ninth game of the set and held serve to win, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
In his post-match press conference Dimitrov admits that “I didn’t expect to play that well … I had a couple of things that I knew if they were not going in the right way I would have lost the match. Got a bit lucky at 4‑All in the third, and, yeah, I was happy to close the match.”
This is Dimitrov’s first top 10 win in 10 career outings and certainly only the beginning of his illustrious young career. Maybe he should bring Serena with him when he travels all the time; seems to be his good luck charm.
In a battle of the Eastern Europeans, Tipsarevic and Dimitrov will next face off in fourth round play on Tuesday at the Sony Ericsson Open.
by Lisa-Marie Burrows, Special for Tennis Grandstand
World No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic was victorious once again on Rod Laver Arena in a spectacular Australian Open Final to win his third straight major championship after defeating Rafael Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 at Melbourne Park.
The two current greatest players in the world locked horns for an epic 5 hours and 53-minutes in a match that had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, finishing at 1:37am local time. It was a war of attrition, physicality and mental strength between the rivals, but it was the defending champion, Djokovic, (who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open last year) that was victorious and retained his title in a marathon match.
The fitness of Novak Djokovic was questionable at the start of the match, as he needed almost five hours to fend off Andy Murray in the semifinals, but the Serb refused to give in to any aching limbs or fatigue in the long dual.
The opening set took an exhausting 1 hour and 20-minutes in which the level of play soared and dipped, as neither player was near their best. – yet. It had moments of sparkling shots and then inconsistency. Both players were finding their feet and settling into the occasion. Djokovic was adjusting to the immense spin generated from the Spaniard’s racquet, whilst Nadal was staring at his biggest rival of the season, seeking a way to end the torment of losing to him once again for a seventh time.
Eventually, it was the world No.2 who maintained the momentum to break serve in the 11th game at 7-5 and the Djoker looked slightly weary and temporarily out of sorts as he struggled with his rallies and the level of aggression from Nadal.
At the start of the second set, the change of shirt to a black top seemed to clear the mind of Djokovic as he turned into the beast in black. He became the dominant force, the hunter of the ball and he took his prey. Pressuring Rafa in the rallies and with outstanding service returns, the top seed seemed more at ease and quickly broke to go up 4-1. Nadal’s aggressive game plan faltered and he watched in awe as he saw Djokovic’s incredible return of serve frequently sail past him, as quickly as the set at 4-6.
Nadal’s confidence deteriorated in the third set and so did the range and depth of his shots. Perhaps thoughts of his previous three Grand Slam final defeats plagued his mind as he had no answer to the blistering backhands and fiery forehands flying off the Serb’s racquet. Nadal was pushed to his defensive limits, but to no avail, as Djokovic comfortably stole the set 6-2 after a thunderous forehand down the line.
The world No.2 showed to those who doubted his capability of winning at that point his strength, determination and true grit as he fought back in the fourth set. The crowd was delighted to see the match return to its highest quality of tennis. Nadal faced three break points at 3-4 but staved them off after returning back to his initial game plan: aggression. The Spaniard continually painted the lines with wide, deep balls, pulling Djokovic from one side to the other and the crowd roared with delight as the set was taken to a tiebreak. Both players achieved a mini-break, but it was Nadal who clinched it at 7-5 after Djokovic hit a forehand wide into the tramlines.
Nadal’s exquisite game climaxed as he continued to play immaculately. He broke to go up 4-2 in the fifth set as Djokovic began to look fatigued but was gifted a lifeline after an unusually sloppy game from the Spaniard, who hit a backhand long enabling the Serb to break back.
Djokovic was in the ascendency after staging his comeback in the fifth and with adrenaline pumping through his veins, he broke Nadal one further time for a 6-5 lead. He saved a break point before finally claiming the win and becoming crowned the Australian Open champion once again.
The 24-year-old Djokovic dispelled of all fatigue and soreness in his body and used his last piece of strength to tear off his shirt in celebration at the end after one of the most tumultuous and dramatic finals in the history of the game. He not only fought against the odds, he achieved one of the hardest quests possible in tennis- successfully defending a Grand Slam title.
It is very rare to see standing ovations for individual points, but thus was the quality of tennis by two superior athletes who showed irrepressible mental stamina as well as physical stamina. Neither player required medical attention and showed no signs of cramping. The match showed their superhuman efforts to fulfil a dream in the longest dual in history at the Australian Open. What other sport plays for more than 6 hours at this intense level?
Both players showed great heart, great character and are outstanding ambassadors for the sport. Their speeches were gracious in victory and defeat and after a long, fantastic two weeks of the tournament, the winner may have been Novak Djokovic, but the real champion is tennis, for having these two, remarkable sportsmen in it.