by Kevin Craig
- Novak Djokovic earned his 700th career match win in Dubai, beating Jaziri in straight sets. He is now the third active player with 700 wins, behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
- The 28-point tiebreak in Dubai that was played between Stan Wawrinka and Marcos Baghdatis was the longest in an ATP final since Andy Roddick beat Mardy Fish in San Jose in 2004, also playing a 28-point tiebreak.
- Wawrinka’s title in Dubai extends his win streak in finals to nine after starting his career 4-9 in finals.
- There were four finals played last week that involved a player with a one-handed backhand and a player with a two-handed backhand. All four of the players with one-handed backhands prevailed, including Dominic Thiem over Bernard Tomic, Pablo Cuevas over Pablo Carreno Busta, Wawrinka over Baghdatis, and Carla Suarez Navarro over Jelena Ostapenko.
- Cuevas played seven left-handers in a row, including all five of his opponents that he beat en route to his title in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first player to win a title playing only left-handers along the way. Cuevas played Facundo Bagnis twice, Thiago Monteiro twice, Federico Delbonis, Nadal, and Guido Pella.
- Nick Kyrgios held all 47 of his service games during his title run in Marseille before being broken in his first service game in Dubai.
- Baghdatis served up a bagel to Roberto Bautista Agut in Dubai. The last time he had won a set 6-0 was against Andy Murray at the French Open in 2010. Baghdatis has won four 6-0 sets against players in the Top 20, but only won two of the four matches that included bagels.
- Franko Skugor of Croatia won his first match on the ATP World Tour in six years in Dubai, beating Teymuraz Gabashvili in straight sets. His most recent win came in July of 2010 in Umag when he beat Filippo Volandri.
by Kevin Craig
Rafael Nadal is a man on a mission and he is taking no stops along the way. At the ATP World Tour Finals Wednesday, the Spaniard was able to easily dispatch the No. 2 ranked player in the world, Andy Murray. With many tennis fans around the world writing off Nadal and not expecting him to return to the top level of the game, he has been given extra motivation at the end of this year that he hopes will carry over into the 2016 season. For now, though, Nadal will be pleased with his current run of form and that he has advanced to the semifinal round of the World Tour Finals.
Nadal’s win over Murray came with a 6-4, 6-1 score line. The match started off very tight as Nadal and Murray exchanged breaks to begin the match, and went on to play six games in the first set that went at least six points, including one that lasted 11 points. Nadal was able to get a break in the 10th game of the set, though, to earn himself a one set advantage. It was no looking back from there as the 14-time grand slam champion didn’t have to face a break point in the second set and won two-thirds of all the points played. Nadal’s consistently high level of intensity was able to fluster the British star, as Murray struggled throughout the match with his serve, only making 43 percent of his first serves and winning less than half of his service points overall.
In the second singles match of the day, Stan Wawrinka was able to fight off a hot start from David Ferrer to win 7-5, 6-2. The first set looked like smooth sailing for David Ferrer as he went up an early break, but appeared to tighten up a bit in the latter stages, allowing the 2015 French Open champion to win five games in a row from being down 2-5. Wawrinka got off to a bit of a sloppy start, as he was unable to hit through Ferrer’s great defense, but as soon as the smallest glimpse of an opportunity opened up to the Suisse, he took advantage of it and turned the match around. Similarly to the Nadal-Murray match, it was smooth sailing in the second set as Wawrinka broke in the first game and grabbed another break a couple games later to boost his lead and cruise to the win. Ferrer’s struggles on serve continued over from his first match, something that he will hope to fix in his final match at the World Tour Finals before heading into 2016.
In the doubles, the team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau were able to go to 2-0 in round robin play, setting themselves up in a great position heading into their final round robin match. Their win on Wednesday came over Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, 6-4, 7-6(3). Rojer and Tecau were able to get through the first set without much difficulty as they only lost three points on serve and didn’t have to face a break point. Needless to say, the second set was much more intense as the two teams exchanged breaks and ended up needing a tiebreaker to decide the set. The No. 2 team in the world were the better team on the day, though, as Rojer and Tecau were able to tough out the tiebreaker by a 7-3 score line.
The other doubles match saw Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut bounce back and give themselves a much better chance of advancing to the semifinal round by beating Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. The French duo were the steadier team throughout the match as they won at least 85 percent of their first serve points in every set, including going eight-for-eight in the super tiebreak.
Not only did Rafael Nadal clinch his spot in the semifinal round, he was also able to clinch the first place spot of the group. This means the second place spot will be decided by the match between Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, which will surely be an exciting affair on Friday. As for the doubles, despite the loss on Wednesday, Matkowski and Zimonjic still see their semifinal hopes alive, as a win is needed over Dodig/Melo and Herbert/Mahut would have to lose to Rojer/Tecau in straights.
by Kevin Craig
Day two of the ATP World Tour Finals saw more of the same as day one, as the singles winners were able to win comfortably and the best match of the day came from the doubles event. Fans in the O2 Arena were able to witness everything from dominating performances to late match nerves, as the four of the eight best singles players and doubles teams began their journey towards winning the title.
The home favorite of the singles event, Andy Murray, took on David Ferrer in what was the most competitive match of the singles tournament so far. That isn’t saying much in itself, though, as Murray was able to dispatch the feisty Spaniard by a score of 6-4, 6-4. Ferrer struggled with his serve throughout the match, hitting eight double faults and only making 49 percent of his first serves. Murray was able to take advantage of this, having eight break points in the match and converting on three of them. The Brit was able to back up his service games as well, as he only dropped six points on his first serve. This was Murray’s fifth straight win over Ferrer.
The other Spaniard in the event was able to have much better fortune in his opening match as Rafael Nadal beat French Open champion Stan Wawrinka easily, 6-3, 6-2. After an entertaining first set, Wawrinka began to appear disinterested in the match after going down a break late in the first. This allowed Nadal to win half of his points on return throughout the match and earn himself 15 break points throughout the match. Wawrinka was able to save 11 of them, but the four that Nadal were able to win set him up to breeze through his first match in London. Nadal was able to turn around the recent run of form between these two, as Wawrinka had won three of their last four match-ups.
Likewise to day one of the tournament, the best match of the day came from the doubles event. On day two, it was the French Open champions Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo defeating the US Open champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, 3-6, 7-6(4), 10-7. The French pairing of Herbert/Mahut appeared to be well on their way to victory as they had a set and a break lead until the latter stages of the second set. When Herbert served for the match at 5-4, he double faulted on two match points in a row at 40-30 and on a deciding point to lose the break advantage. A team with the world number one doubles player will always take advantage of an opportunity like this, as Dodig/Melo took the momentum and were able to close out the match in a super tiebreak.
The other doubles match was much more straightforward as Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau breezed through their first match in just over an hour with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic. The veteran pairing of Matkowski/Zimonjic was unable to get it going as they only had one break point the entire match and struggled to barely win half of their own service points. The number two team in the world of Rojer/Tecau used the success in their service games to apply extra pressure on the return, earning themselves eight break points and four breaks throughout the match.
The wins of Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal saw the Big Four go 4-0 in their opening matches of the World Tour Finals, possibly setting themselves up for what would be a very interesting knockout round. Ferrer and Wawrinka can beat anyone they play on any given day, though, so this group is far from decided. The same is true for the doubles event as Herbert/Mahut and Matkowski/Zimonjic will be looking to avenge their losses in their last two round robin matches.
Stan Wawrinka is no stranger to the second week of the US Open, and the two will be reacquainted again this year after his 6–3, 7–6, 6–4 Saturday win over Ruben Bemelmans. Wawrinka advanced to the fourth round for the fourth straight year, and for the seventh time overall in 11 US Open appearances. His next foe is American Donald Young, who fought back from 0-2 to win in the fifth set for the second time in the tournament. “He’s a tough player,” Warinka says. “He’s improved a lot—especially his attitude on the court. He’s fighting way more, he’s always trying. He will try to get the crowd with him, so it’s going to be, for sure, a great match to play.”
Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com
The best players have dominated the French Open for years, but William Hill’s Lee Phelps is looking at the bigger odds to see if anyone is worth betting on for a shock.
The Slams are usually the realm of the favourites in tennis, but we saw Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic surprise the top order last year, so could the 2015 French Open go to a player a big price?
Rafael Nadal has dominated this tournament for a decade, with only Roger Federer winning the title in the last decade. In fact only two men outside the top four seeds have contested the final. Robin Soderling twice and in 2005 Mariano Puerto lost to Nadal when he won his first French Open trophy.
Let’s look at the men outside the top four in the betting though, just in case 2015 is a year we saw one from the pack upset the odds.
Federer has been a long time victim of Nadal’s at Roland Garros, but did win when Rafa was injured in 2009. The questions over his demise won’t go away, but to be fair neither will Fed.
A final appearance against Djokovic in Italy and his world ranking suggest that Federer will once again be a big player in Paris. He did pick up straight-sets wins against Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka too playing his best tennis on the dirt in quite some time.
He may not have the speed of his younger days, but the clay should benefit him. It’s just whether he can hold his own on the baseline.
Stan had a great 2014, but he’s finding it tougher going in 15 and his best at the French is a quarter final in 2013.
He has made people sit up and take notice by beating Nadal in Rome, but he is one of four to do that already this season including Fabio Fognini. That win was his first in 13 attempts against Rafa, but I still think it says more about the Spaniard.
Tennis odds makers know that the Spaniard is arguably the best players on the ATP circuit today never to have won a Grand Slam. Clay has historically been his best surface, and in 2013 he did all he could before facing Nadal in the tournament final – he did what everyone else has done and promptly lost.
I don’t see that famed fitness lasting out for another final appearance here. It quarter finals and out for Ferrer, but he will make life hard for one of the top seeds before saying Au Revoir.
Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The two home hopes will be talked about as usual in Paris, but it’s hard to see them going all the way. Monfils best is the semi-final in 2008 and Tsonga went to the last four stage in 2013.
Despite the clamour among the media and hopeful Parisian fans, I don’t see either player having the game or the consistency to make it to the last four. Tsonga is on a 5 and 4 run on clay this season and his compatriot is 7 and 3.
In truth I don’t see any of these outsiders troubling the big guns. But if I was taking one to creep into the final with my tennis picks it would be Roger Federer, just because of his pedigree and with a fortuitous draw he could find some out-of-form and less than fresh players. My pick for the final is Novak Djokovic versus Kei Nishikori, with Djokovic (-125 favorite on the French Open odds board) winning.
Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.
Shot of the Day: Fans who couldn’t make it out to Roland Garros still got their taste of tennis in front of the Hôtel de Ville in the center of Paris, where participants could try out the red clay or catch the action on the big screen.
Mikhail Youzhny loses it: Many tennis fans were likely experiencing a bout of déjà vu when Russian Mikhail Youzhny absolutely obliterated his racket after falling down a set and 3-0 to Tommy Haas in their fourth round match. This was not the first time the fiery Russian has exhibited such anger on the court, as Nick Zaccardi of Sports Illustrated points out. In 2008, in a match against Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, Youzhny banged his racket against his head several times and in the process drew blood. Both videos can be seen in Zaccardi’s article.
Week one French Open takeaways: The first half of the French Open has come and gone but not without an abundance of drama and questions. Jonathan Overend of the BBC discusses some of the biggest storylines surrounding Roland Garros including Rafa’s form, the restoration of single-handed backhands, Laura Robson’s struggles and more.
Li Na’s press conference raises questions: Sports Illustrated reports that after her second round exit to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Li Na has been heavily criticized for comments she made to the Chinese media. Asked if she had an explanation for her loss Li replied, “Do I need to explain?” She carried on saying, “It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them.” Chinese Journalists Zhang Rongfeng believes this response is indicative of Li Na’s lack of professionalism.
Dominic Inglot grateful for professional career: Dominic Inglot, as Simon Briggs of The Telegraph points out, was the final player hailing from the United Kingdom to be playing in the 2013 French Open. Inglot, along with college teammate and current doubles partner, Treat Huey, crashed out to Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut in the third round of the doubles competition. In his conversation with Briggs, Inglot talks about how he made it into professional tennis and how lucky he is to be able to make a living on tour.
“I get to play tennis for a living—that is the ultimate dream. When I was a little kid I remember cutting the cake on my birthday and blowing the candles out and saying every single time, ‘I want to be a professional tennis player.’”
Road to Roland Garros- Bethanie Mattek-Sands: In this edition of Road to Roland Garros, Bethanie Mattek-Sands reveals her inspiration in tennis, talks about her perpetual lateness, and how her diet is her biggest sacrifice.
Novak Djokovic playing for Jelena Gencic: Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open after a four set win over German Philipp Kohlschreiber. Djokovic, as Reem Abulleil of Sport360 reports, is hoping to claim his first Roland Garros title in memory of his childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, who passed away Saturday.
“She’s one of the most incredible people I ever knew. So it’s quite emotional. I feel even more responsible now to go all the way in this tournament. Now I feel in her honor that I need to go all the way,”
27 pictures of Rafael Nadal on his 27th birthday: In his first three matches, Rafael Nadal looked like a shadow of himself and was consequentially tested by Daniel Brands, Martin Klizan, and Fabio Fognini, three players Nadal probably expected to dispose of quicker than he did. In his fourth round match with Kei Nishikori, Nadal quickly erased the memories of his lackluster play in the opening three rounds. Nadal’s 27th birthday was today and he definitely made sure he had enough time to celebrate crushing Nishikori 6-4 6-1 6-3. DNA India takes a look back at Nadal’s career in 27 pictures.
Victoria Azarenka prepares for Maria Kirilenko: 2013 Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is set to square off against longtime doubles partner, Maria Kirilenko, after beating Francesca Schiavone in a match that she said was her “most composed and most consistent match thus far.” As Chris Wright of Yahoo Sports points out, “Azarenka is 3-2 against Kirilenko but has not lost to the Russian since 2007.” Azrenka said in regards to Kirilenko “She’s definitely improved a lot over the last couple years since she’s a very motivated player (and a) good friend of mine.”
Stanislas Wawrinka topples Richard Gasquet: Coming back from two sets to love down, Stanislas Wawrinka defeated French hopeful Richard Gasquet in a five set match that featured some of the most jaw-dropping infusions of pace, exquisite shot making, and masterful racket work of the entire tournament. The ATP called the match a “vintage display of shotmaking with 149 winners struck during the match.” Wawrinka’s play was so exemplary that the Swiss went as far as to say, “I played the best level I ever played at.” One of the comments on the ATP article even offered a new nickname for Stan—“WOWrinka.”
by James A. Crabtree
Novak Djokovic is the spoiler of many parties. He has captured almost everything the game has to offer. He has won when he shouldn’t have, caused Roger Federer to smash a racquet, caused Rafa even more OCD’s, won over partisan crowds and nudged his way to the top of the tennis word.
But Novak wasn’t always this way. He was very soft for what seemed like a long time. He looked like the sort of guy who gets beaten up by meanies wearing skeleton costumes at a High School party.
Should we bring up the past? Novak used to be a quitter on an incredible scale. In 2006, Djokovic retired when two sets down in the French Open quarter-final against Rafael Nadal. In 2007 he quit during his Wimbledon semi-final, yes SEMI-FINAL AT WIMBLEDON again against Nadal, blaming a blister on his toe that had even the commentators querying his toughness. In 2008 he won a slam, then he started tinkering with his serve and everyone but his mother said he was finished. Then 2011 happened and we tried to find the reason why he started dominating. We couldn’t figure it out. Surely blatant hard work couldn’t be the only answer? Perhaps a combination of Zen, yoga, stretching and gluten free all rolled into one?
The question is what happened? Yes Novak was always pretty good. He always had the skill set but appeared to lack the mental toughness. He had won that early slam but what he continues to achieve since and keeps achieving is ridiculous. Since June 2006, Djokovic has been coached by Marián Vajda, a former Slovakian professional tennis player. What links Marián with Mr. Myagi is unknown but speculation abounds that he has asked Novak to wash his car and paint his fence.
These days nobody can work out an attack against Novak. Russian cold war scientists and probably Matt Damon from his Goodwill days have been employed using the finest oversized computers to work out a mathematical code to take down the Serb. In truth, nobody knows what to do. To play him is worse than a headache, it is a flipping migraine.
Like so many of the greats before he finds a way to win when he should have already lost. Just ask Stan the Man Wawrinka who almost reached the upper echelons at the Aussie Open only for Novak to refuse to give up. Ask Andy Murray who really could have had him in that second set in the Aussie Open final. The guy atop is a vexatious unrelenting baseliner, a bothersome retriever, a troublesome and tiresome returner. The most stubborn player currently with a racquet. And I mean that in a good way. I mean he has refused to lose. He slides, he attacks, he skids, he does the splits then he has the audacity to speak to the home crowd in any language going.
Okay, so Novak hasn’t been unbeatable this year, he has lost to Del Potro and Haas but on the big occasions when it has mattered he has simply gotten the job done.
Think back to Monte Carlo recently. Before the tournament began there were questions whether Novak would even play because of a dodgy ankle. Before you know it he struggled through a tough first rounder with Mikhail-Youzhny and tough second rounder with Juan Monaco. After that Novak battled on and snatched away what has come to be known as the invitational Rafa Nadal Monte Carlo Closed.
Yes, Rafa did play pretty bad in the final and Novak even admitted to the fact. But it was a Samson moment, the locks had been cut. Rafa was all but unbeatable on clay and more invincible at Monte Carlo. Will the Rafa locks regrow in time for the French Open? Unless Novak gets a career threatening blister he is a lock in to unify the grand slam belts…right?
All that remains is a montage…
By Romi Cvitkovic
March 13, 2013 — What should have been a mostly routine win by Roger Federer over countryman Stan Wawrinka at the 4th round of the BNP Paribas Open, turned into a rollercoaster of a match as Federer lost his cool, double-faulted on set point and much more.
The first set held three breaks of serve and that should have been omen enough of things to come in the match. But Federer finally held in hist fifth service game at 15 to take the first set, 6-3.
After grabbing a break in the second set and with Federer serving at 5-4, the Tennis Channel commentators already resorted to patting Wawrinka on the back, and nearly calling it a match. That was until Wawrinka woke up and decided to really play some tennis. In the blink of an eye, Wawrinka broke Federer with a running backhand passing winner, followed by THREE backhand errors by Federer. Federer didn’t help his situation as he was forced to dish out a few second serves. 5-5.
On his own serve, Wawrinka quickly went up 40-0 before a few sloppy errors brought it to deuce. Wawrinka eventually held serve with a beautiful approach shot forehand winner just out of Federer’s reach. 6-5 for Wawrinka.
We then quickly found ourselves in a second set tiebreak — a place that has become familiar territory between the two players as of late. Wawrinka continued playing lights-out tennis eventually establishing set points with this beautiful baseline rally. Just watching the video, you start to wonder “Which one is Federer and which one is Wawrinka?” The touch, backhands and shot selection!
Who would have guessed that the almighty Roger Federer WOULD HAVE DOUBLE-FAULTED ON SET POINT! But he did, and with it Wawrinka snatched the second set.
Tensions were high on both ends going into the third set, and at 1-all with Federer serving at 0-30, Federer became uncharacteristically feisty. He wanted to challenge his own serve, but because he had already hit his second shot, the chair umpire refused the challenge. Federer then proceeded to argue with the umpire, even calling ATP supervisor Lars up to dispute the decision. Lars agreed with the original call and Federer was left to serve down 0-40. A graphic on Tennis Channel later showed that there was a 1.955 second delay between when the serve hit the court versus when Federer challenged.
In the following point, you can see a noticeably agitated Federer run around a short shot and leash out a massive forehand, leaving the full court exposed and primed for a beautifully-timed Wawrinka backhand winner.
But as is known to happen in tennis and with one of it’s best players, Federer broke right back, and the two stayed neck-and-neck until 4-all. At 30-40 on Federer’s serve, Wawrinka had a chance to break and serve for the match but Federer blasted a forehand painting the sideline that pulled Wawrinka wide and forced an error. With a beautiful forehand smash, Federer held at 5-4.
With Wawrinka serving at 5-6, Federer quickly went up 0-30 as Wawrinka’s back-to-back rallies went either wide or long. At 15-40, Wawrinka netted a forehand and Federer claimed his 13th win 0ver his good friend, 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-5.
James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — The day started well, I got an email from a very noble Nigerian who alerted me to the fact I had inherited $2 million U.S. dollars. So sweet of him to seek me out, will definitely chase that up later.
After a quick brekkie I skipped out like a happy smurf on to Melbourne Park for what turned out to be a canapé kind of day. What on earth do I mean you ask? Simply sampling, a bit of this and a bit of that. And let me tell you that the Australian Open app only forces you to court hop even more.
I started with Nicolás Almagro who was up against fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver. This was a one sided affair for Almagro which meant constant checking of the app for updates elsewhere. Radwanska, Kerber and Venus Williams all dominated quickly as the top seeded women do, except Stosur but more on that later.
Seriously, how about some more upsets? I am starting to believe it was a mistake since Wimbledon 2001 to increase the number of seeds from 16 to 32 and thus in many ways limit the chance for an upset.
Digression over, I hung around for Li Na but it was clear she was going to oust Govortsova although the tall girl with a dodgy serve made a respectable effort in the second set.
A quick walk out of the Hisense arena brought me to Stepanek resting on one court while Del Potro was practicing serves on another. Every time I have seen Del Potro practice, which is now five times, he is always serving. In fact I am starting to believe he doesn’t even practice groundstrokes.
On another playing court was Jurgen Melzer who looked in control against spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, so I skipped that one (even though it did go to five sets). Just beyond that match was another practice court this one showcasing Maria Sharapova, with fans hurdled around like she was handing out free candy — perhaps even “Sugarpova.”
That brought me to lunch although no canapés were on offer. Within the confines of the media restaurant journalists readily stuff their faces. It should be noted that a notable Australian doubles legend, who is commentating, didn’t disappoint. He returned twice (according to the girl working) for a serving of fries with a sweet soy sauce that was scooped from the depth of a bok choy chicken dish. That’s right, no vegetables or meat, just carbs and gravy which may be the secret to his eternal youth.
Back to the infamous Australian Open app and decision making. David Ferrer on Margaret Court or Stan the Man Wawrinka on Show Court 2? I chose Stan, just had to see that backhand, sorry David. Each set Stan was broken he kept his nerve and fought back, although a third set wasn’t needed against Kamke who retired.
On the way out of the Stan match I was greeted with the big screen showing big Berd(ych) cruising. Also worthy of a cruise and a round of Pimms was Tomas Berdych’s old school “lets go yachting” attire and its lack of a sponsor. He wore a plain white collared shirt and hat that felt ever so 1950. The logo on his hat was covered and his socks folded down to disguise a brand, with the only sign of sponsorship being his Nike shoes. “Good show old chap, good show.”
After another quick check of the app and a failed attempt to use the live streaming to watch Jerzy Janowicz playing out his epic two set down comeback against Somdev Devvarman, I finally moved onto the Margaret Court arena. Here David Ferrer ranked 5 and seeded 4, played against lucky loser and sister of Tennis Grandstand writer Tim Smyczek, ranked 125. Smyczek was hoping for his second win against a top twenty player, the first being Jurgen Melzer at Delray Beach last year. The little Spaniard (who really is that little) was his typically energetic self and ran out the win in four entertaining sets although Smyczek should be commended for his efforts.
Next, I gallantly shunned the Stosur match because I attended her first round exit last year and somehow felt I was an unlucky omen for her if I was there to watch. Omen or not she lost her second round match to Chinese player Jie Zheng. But as I wasn’t in attendance, Stosur’s loss is officially not my fault this time.
Over at Rod Laver arena was Djokovic, who avoided becoming the first defending champion to lose in the 2nd round since Mats Wilander back in 1989. The honour of joining that fateful club was never an issue against Ryan Harrison. Interestingly, this loss extended Harrison’s streak of losing to seeded players in grand slams to eight, although nobody could have beaten Nole on this night.
That brought me to the close of the evening where it was time to head home, charge the phone, get ready for the mega heat and tomorrow’s action – Davy and Fed, Serena and her dodgy ankle, Tomic, Murray in his tight shirt, Laura Robson and Kvitova! And, of course, time to sort out the $2 million dollars from the noble Nigerian.
Jesse Pentecost is on the grounds of the Australian Open, covering matches and practice sessions and giving you an intimate behind-the-scenes look of the tennis season’s first Slam.
By Jesse Pentecost
I would be overstating the case to say that more than a minority believed Grigor Dimitrov to defeat Julien Benneteau. Even among those of us who predicted it, the prediction was for an upset, which by definition entails a lesser player beating his or her ostensible superior. But it was widely felt Dimitrov had a chance. After all, the two men are only ranked six places apart, and it was only by the grace of Rafael Nadal and John Isner’s knees that the Frenchman is actually seeded. Either way, it was sure to be a close match, and well-worth the meager effort of loitering next it.
Following an hour’s flânerie around the practice courts – I can declare with some authority that Dominika Cibulkova is shorter than Ana Ivanovic – I ensconced myself courtside for the match. The court was Court 13, and there was no camera, meaning I had one of the best views in the entire world of the famous upset destined to unfold at some unspecified time after 11am. I found myself seated next to Dimitrov’s coach and fitness trainer. I asked his trainer what ‘Come on’ was in Bulgarian. He didn’t know, but did concede he was nervous.
It’s never a bad idea to embed yourself with the support staff, if only so that when their charge begins glaring beseechingly at his coach, you can pretend he or she is looking at you. It also heightens the vibe. It probably would have heightened it even more had Dimitrov won, or even won a set. Word came through that Maria Sharapova had delivered the tournament’s first double bagel, against the appropriately named Olga Puchkova. Unfortunately this word didn’t reach Dimitrov, who clearly needed more inspiration than his support team and I could collectively muster. What he didn’t need was more backhand errors, although I suspect he’d already cornered the world’s supply. Benneteau, a true professional, was unrelenting in exposing that wing, and the Bulgarian seemed powerless to stop him.
I recommenced my ambling. The toilet block beside Court 14 had malfunctioned, and a noisome musk blanketed the far corner of the grounds. I fled to Court 8, where Sorana Cirstea was seeing off Coco Vanderweghe, the most American-sounding athlete since Misty Hyman. With time to kill before Ryan Harrison and Santiago Giraldo materialised, I loafed over to the practice courts, stopping briefly to see Victor Hanescu break Kei Nishikori back, eliciting a roar of stony silence from the predominantly Japanese crowd. Caroline Wozniacki was practicing nearby, perfecting the technique of scurrying backwards after returning serve, while Alexandr Dolgopolov had was hitting up with Marcel Granollers, for some reason.
I swung by Court 16 – the practice court of champions – in order to observe the purportedly fraught moment when Roger Federer made way for Bernard Tomic, an event that was apparently scheduled and symbolic. Lest you’ve missed the beat-up: Switzerland and Australia’s best male players have allegedly been engaged in a war or words, although from reading the press transcripts it seemed less like a war than an amiable cup of tea. Naturally the media had obtained one of the teacups, and discovered that it contained a storm. The storm was that, when asked about a possible third round encounter, each man pointed out that the other guy would have to get there first. This unremarkable point was immediately apprehended, and duly repurposed as a mortal insult. The only question really was who would throw the first punch.
I arrived to discover 4,700 less disinterested people had gotten there first. Federer was hitting up with Gilles Simon, who’d unfortunately misplaced his coach. Since the Swiss has two, he lent Severin Luthi to the Frenchman, which I thought generous. I did wonder precisely how usefully this would prepare Federer for Benoit Paire. I decided that nothing can usefully prepare one for Paire, so there’s no use even trying.
As ever, Federer’s practice session ended early, so that he could spend time appeasing the adoring masses. And a mass they were. I remarked at the time that it was like Beatlemania. There was a particularly hysterical timbre that female squeals attained whenever the Fab Four took the stage, an exaggerated ululating shriek that had gone unheard since primordial times. Young people were making exactly that noise today whenever Federer strayed within arm’s reach. Federer, working his way along line, took it in his stride as teenage girls swooned and cascaded to the ground in his wake. He knows as well as anyone that their adulation has little to do with his craft, and everything to do with his fame, and it’s to his credit that fame hasn’t overly insulated him from the appropriate human reaction. He hides his bemusement well, but it’s certainly there. Seated across the court, Simon’s bemusement wasn’t hidden at all – it was clear in his sardonic grin. Tomic turned up, but Federer was still being feted elsewhere, and I couldn’t see that they exchanged words, let alone blows. I am confident someone will spin it as an icy dismissal.
Next to me a boy proudly showed his friends the oversized souvenir ball whose value Federer had marginally enhanced by adding some ink to it. He wasn’t a young boy, and I’m not convinced a signature is something genuinely worth craving. But his friends’ awe was genuine enough, and the boy was authentically swept away. Directly behind me Xavier Malisse was easily accounting for Pablo Andujar. In 2002 I recall explaining to anyone who’d listen that Malisse was the next big thing, unlike Federer, whose game I found attractive even as I decried its inconsistency. It has been a long eleven years. Malisse won comfortably, but there was no squealing. Sam Stosur won, and there were merely long, shuddering sighs of relief, rippling across the grounds.
Harrison was by this time marshalling his forces on Court 8. Through a scrappy set and half the disparate components of his outrage were separately rehearsed, although he had yet to combine them all in a full-blown tantrum, as he is contractually obliged to do at least once per match. He dropped the first set to Giraldo – his proto-nemesis – then gradually climbed on top during a second set short on highlights, bar the backhand pass up the line with which the American finally broke and levelled the match. Since he looked to be going on with it, I left him to his toils.
From there I looked in Stan Wawrinka, who as expected was delivering stern lessons to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. Upon losing Stebe tore off his ridiculous yellow headband, and stormed from the court with newfound purpose, knocking elderly spectators flying. Agnieszka Radwanska, after briefly flirting with the possibility of playing the odd tight set – and thus causing concerned journalists to quibble at her recent schedule – thought better of it and went back to dishing out bagels.
Margaret Court Arena was now free, and thither I sauntered, reflecting as I did that I was running dangerously short on similes for walking casually. Luckily the two men walking out onto MCA were Mikhail Youzhny and Matt Ebden, and they were about to commence a five set classic. I wouldn’t be casually walking anywhere for a while.
For the second year in a row, Ebden fell to a seed after holding a two set lead. Last year it was Nishikori, and this year it was heartbreaking, through being closer. Youzhny saved a match point late in the fourth, before forcing the fifth. It was tremendous, although I was quick to note that most of the crowd, extravagantly bunted in Australia’s flag and given to unharmonsied chanting, found the outcome less inspiring than I did. But they were generous in applauding the Colonel as he saluted them. He’d earned it. They’d earned it.
I strolled out, elated, and discovered someone had stolen my bicycle helmet. So it goes.