The heat has finally arrived in Melbourne as the first week of the Australian Open draws to a close. Sticky courts, ice packs and closed roofs are now making their appearances. You’d think the boys and girls would really want to get their matches over in a hurry when it’s 1oo+ on court, but no. Five set matches are still taking place. Fabrice Santoro enjoyed a five set win over Number 8 seed Gaston Gaudio. Yesterday Dominik Hrbaty won his third straight five-setter over Igor Andreev. Sebastian Grosjean took out Guillermo Coria in four sets, continuing what has been a rather easy run for the Frenchman. Nicholas Kiefer had a good match against Juan Carlos Ferrero, taking the Spaniard down in four sets.
My Dark Horse pick, Tommy Haas, rolled again easily in three sets over his American opponent, Paul Goldstein. Then he took out the last Aussie in the draw, qualifier Peter Luczak, in four sets. “I guess we should start talking about Tommy Haas,” says Mary Carillo in the booth. I guess you should, although we don’t want to jinx the man. But a lot of people are now looking forward to that fourth round match-up between Haas and Roger Federer. Their styles are rather similar, both with all-court games and gorgeous one-handed backhands. Tommy is almost the roadshow version of Roger we could argue.
Roger had his way easily today over good buddy Max Mirnyi in straight sets. Even faced with a huge serving opponent in his match, Roger seemed unfazed. Mirnyi was serving over 70% through the first set on his first serves, and he still lost. As the heat blazes and tempers flare, Roger moves about as if from another realm. Serene, poised, impeccable. He barely breaks a sweat. It hardly seems fair. If Roger has a weakness, suggested Cliff Drysdale in the TV booth, then it might be that he needs more experience putting the clamps on early in a match when he’s ahead. Not letting it morph into a longer match. Gee, quipped Patrick McEnroe, doesn’t he do that already? Like in the warm-ups?
Andy Roddick continues rather effortlessly through his matches. This is good, as Andy has taken up poker it seems and now he has more time at the tables. Roddick seems as relaxed off-court as he is aggressive on. The run continues. Let’s just say it, why not? Roger and Andy. Andy and Roger. In the Final. Good, that’s out of the way.
The top women are mostly taking care of business. Lindsay Davenport needed three sets against Kirilenko and they weren’t exactly objets d’art, but she won. Ditto Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin-Hardenne. Justine is surprisingly thinner this season. Apparently Henin-Hardenne decided she didn’t need all that muscle she added during last year. For someone with her style of play, quickness and speed may be better bets than muscling her way through power shots.
Mary Pierce’s loss to Iveta Benasova leaves her the highest woman’s seed to go. At the women’s year end tournament in Los Angeles in November, I had written how Mary’s game is too erratic to predict the same success this year she had in 2005. Her loss to Benesova bore that out. Pierce could not string together much of anything to make a match out of it. Or she would set up points but then blow them.
Yesterday the women’s field also lost Serena Williams. Daniela Hantuchova had never managed to win a set off her. She not only won the set, she won the match. Physically it was an odd-looking event. Hantuchova still looks too thin in my book; Serena on the other hand looked like she snagged every cupcake from Miami to Melbourne. Chunky, BBW, or just plain fat, Serena’s got to get it together. She and her sister Venus both appear “filled out.” That sounds nicer.
Brad Gilbert spoke throughout the match about Serena’s movement, or lack thereof. She was not able to move well and get set up for her next shot, and this was simply due to her lack of conditioning. Personally, it was painful to see the shape the woman was in yesterday. She still insists on wearing outfits that say nothing flattering at all about her figure. From either a fashion or a fitness point of view.
Can’t we all remember the times when the sisters dominated the game thoroughly just on their serves alone? Even their second serves caused much consternation, because they were in the 90s. Now they can barely get the speed over 70 mph.
This was the earliest exit ever for Venus and Serena from a Grand Slam.
After the match Mary Carillo commented how the sisters “won’t get away” with the kind of tennis they have been putting up of late, that this early defeat would be a “cold bucket of water” for the sisters. The best thing that could happen to them. We hope flames of rage are seen emitting from their heads as they work their way back into the rest of the year. Hopefully, they still HAVE flames of rage to summon up.
Maria Sharapova will be the first to congratulate Hantuchova on her victory over Serena. They were scheduled to meet next. We all heard how Sharapova wanted another crack at Serena, but trust us, she’ll be very happy with Hantuchova. Another skinny-assed white girl she can push around a lot more easily than Serena.
The big upset on the men’s side was Number 3 seed Lleyton Hewitt going out in straight sets to Juan Ignacio Chela. This was a reprise of last year when Chela was caught apparently spitting in Hewitt’s direction at one point. He went on to lose to Hewitt in a highly contentious match. Much has been written in the Australian press about Hewitt’s somewhat spotty preparation this year. He has been preoccupied by a new wife and a new baby and a circle of publicity that have conspired to take him away from the court time he needed to play well at a slam. The flu kicked in too, taking the normally feisty Australian away from his energy base. Deprived of his physical game and combativeness, Hewitt went out, dare we say, as meekly as a newborn.
Other than the Federer-Haas showdown, several good matches are in the works. Fourth seed David Nalbandian faces #16 Tommy Robredo. Seventh seed Ivan Ljubicic meets #10 Thomas Johansson. These are good tour workmen, going about their tennis in solid if unspectacular fashion. Andy Roddick should trounce Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus later today, but this could be a raucous match. What ethnic group is not in attendance here? We’ve got the usual motleys of Swedes, Argis and Hewitt fans, now we’ve added a crowd from Cyprus. Expect lots of chatter, from fans and players.
Among the women, #1 seed Lindsay Davenport faces Svetlana Kuznetsova, #14th. Kuznetsova has made a good start at getting her game on track again this year. But Lindsay should be ready now to step it up and take her out in two sets.
A really intriguing match-up features the rising teenager, Nicole Vaidisova of Czechoslovakia, ranked 16th, against #3 seed Amelie Mauresmo. Amelie has moved very quietly through the draw, taking care of business and getting some luck thrown her way too. Yesterday her opponent, Michaella Krajicek, withdrew because of the heat after losing the first set. Amelie must feel like she died and went to heaven, and they call it Australia. No obnoxious French press hounding her with their expectations. She’s probably feeling anonymous and loving it.
And Martina Hingis. Martina Martina. Well, we should start expecting more from her, shouldn’t we? Her countryman Roger Federer spoke rather highly of her game the other day and predicted she could be back in the top twenty in no time. This was not just a sampling of how the Swiss stick together; more like birds of a feather flocking together. It has become apparent to all of us that the style and panache of Martina Hingis is something this guy Roger Federer has a sprinkling of too. If Roger can scatter some pixie dust her way, why not? To paraphrase Orson Welles in the film “The Third Man,” the Borgias in Italy got wars and bloodshed but they also got the whole Renaissance. The Swiss had years of peace and prosperity and produced nothing, save the cuckoo clock.
Well, not just the clock. Now they can claim a man and woman who play the game of tennis with more artistry than just about any pair has ever done.
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