July 11, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

MELBOURNE, Australia – It was hot, as advertised.

Not so hot as to stop play or move roofs.

But hot enough that a wobbly Andrea Petkovic had significant issues on court and had to retire.

But not without giving her opponent a hug and the chair umpire a solid handshake. Because that’s the kind of pro she is.

It was cool enough – relatively – by evening that Andy Murray managed to top four hours on court. Even though it was in vain.

It was a Herculean effort in the Scot’s likely Australian Open finale that – against most players other than the wall that is Roberto Bautista-Agut – might have allowed him to play another day.

Sharapova drops a double bagel

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some victories come in hidden forms. i had to fight many adversaries in the past days and a few years ago i would‘ve complained and cried and blamed the world. yesterday i just shut my mouth and fought until i literally could not stand anymore and i am proud of overcoming what is sometimes the hardest enemy to overcome- our negative patterns we have formed over years. i want to thank my team for standing relentlessly by my side and all of you who worried about me and sent me words of encouragement❤️✌🏻THANK YOU! photo: @jimmie48tennis #heretocreate @adidastennis #inspiration

A post shared by Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovici) on Jan 14, 2019 at 1:41pm PST

Who knew what kind of form Maria Sharapova would be in, as she opened proceedings on Rod Laver Arena?

As it turns out, more than good enough to give a Grand Slam rookie a nasty lesson.

Sharapova dropped a 6-0, 6-0 decision on 22-year-old British qualifier Harriet Dart. Dart, who is 7-1 this season through Brisbane and the qualifying here, was not only making her (non-Wimbledon) Slam debut. And on the big stadium court.

There were tears. “It was always going to be a difficult match, especially on such a big court,” Dart told the British media.

Sharapova was honest about the fact that she continues to try to manage a chronic shoulder issue. It’s not as bad as the problem that eventually led to surgery a decade ago. That one crucially compromised her once-impressive serve and made everything she’s accomplished since then all the more impressive.

“Obviously the shoulder hasn’t been, you know, much of a secret in the past year. That’s been something I have been struggling with and had to shut down the season after the US Open,” Sharapova said. “You know, still not where I want it to be. Still working through some painful days. But, yeah, you know, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match.”

Federer, Nadal get through

If it was far more routine for defending champion Roger Federer against Denis Istomin than it was for Rafael Nadal against Aussie James Duckworth later, that’s par for the course for those two.

Drawn in the same half, they can’t meet in the final as they did two years ago. But perhaps, on paper, it’s right that if things go according to seeding they would play off for the right to face Novak Djokovic.

And, with that, they almost had to field more questions about ATP Tour politics and player council moves and the future of the game than forehands and backhands.

 But Nadal, who has modified his service motion, was pleased with that as he tested it out for the first official time this season.

“My serve worked well. I don’t know my percentage, but was a lot of good positions after the first serve. I felt solid with the second,” he said. “And in general terms I am happy about the victory of today against, as I said before, a very difficult opponent to play.”

Early men’s upsets

Reilly Opelka (USA) def [9] John Isner (USA) 76 (4) 76 (6) 67 (4) 76 (5)
Tomas Berdych (CZE) def [13] Kyle Edmund (GBR) 63 60 75
Andreas Seppi (ITA) def [31] Steve Johnson (USA) 64 46 64 63

If there’s a theme that might play out this first week, it’s the return (finally) of several 30-plus players who have been perennial contenders, but have struggled with injury.

If Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic is to be one of those players, he announced his return loudly and proudly in a straight-sets dismantling of No. 13 seed Kyle Edmund.

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Edmund’s knee tape was not in evidence in Melbourne, but he was definitely not up to his own standards in a straight-sets loss to Berdych in the first round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Berdych was out six months with a back issue. He returned in Doha to start the season and reached the final, losing in three sets to Bautista Agut.

As for Edmund, he may well still be battling a knee issue. The Brit had the knee taped when tennis.life stopped in at pre-season training at IMG Academy, although it wasn’t as apparent in Melbourne.

The all-American clash of giants – 6-foot-10 Isner, 33 and 21-year-old Reilly Opelka (6-foot-11 officially but likely taller) came off as expected – sort of.

You expected nothing but tiebreakers. And that’s what happened. But it was less predictable that Opelka would win three of the four, and therefore cause the first-round upset.

Isner lost his only official match of 2019 to another American, Taylor Fritz. That one was in two tiebreaks. So he didn’t have too much tennis in the body.

Opelka had five matches coming in, between Brisbane and Sydney. 

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(Not Isner)

The two hit 79 aces between them (45 for Isner) and put the ball in play less than a third of the time on their respective first serves. The relatively intimate confines of Court No. 8 really couldn’t contain them.

Early women’s upsets

Danielle Collins (USA) def [14] Julia Goerges (GER) 26 76 (5) 64
Maria Sakkari (GRE) def [22] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 61 36 62
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) def [32] Barbora Strycova (CZE) 64 76 (1)

Of the three, the loss by Goerges to the American Collins is the most surprising – although she very nearly pulled off a straight-sets win before succumbing.

The 30-year-old German won Auckland in the leadup, beating Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu in the final. You could easily picture her in the second week, given the seed in her section was the struggling Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia.

Collins, a noisy player – in every sense of the word – was ranked No. 160 a year ago in Melbourne. She lost in the final round of qualifying. But she announced herself on the Indian Wells-Miami swing a few months later. Still, Collins lost in the first round of the other three majors, and her breakthrough season sort of sputtered to the finish.

Still, she was just three spots out of the seeds. And now, she finds herself in good position to make a second-week run.

As for No. 22 seed Jelena Ostapenko, a left wrist issue compromised her preseason. So the early part of 2019 will be a struggle to catch up even if she didn’t appear hampered in terms of hitting the ball against Maria Sakkari.

Sakkari got a huge boost when a large band of Greek supporters finally made their way to Melbourne Arena, after their work was done supporting Stefanos Tsitsipas on Court 3. It definitely had to help.

More on the popcorn fest that was Strycova vs. Putintseva in another post.

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