by Maud Watson
Unfortunately, one of the biggest stories in the first week of the Aussie Open has been Nadal’s comments about Federer and his response (or lack thereof, in Nadal’s opinion) to tour issues. There was no mincing of words either, as he launched his verbal attack in his native tongue. Whether you agree with Nadal’s stance on the issues of the schedule and prize money is irrelevant. He had no business taking it outside the locker room and publicly attacking Federer. It’s frowned upon in team sports when one team member decides to air dirty laundry in public, and this is no different. Then, shortly after these controversial comments, Nadal announced he hurt his knee while sitting/getting up from in a chair, and that the pain was so bad, he was unsure he was going to play. Granted, the press asked him why his knee was wrapped. But he knew it was a freak thing, and the tests all came back negative. Just say it was precautionary, end of story. Not sure who handles PR for Nadal, but someone needs to get a hold of him and tell him to just shut up and play. When he announced he wouldn’t play in February due to his shoulder, it caused more than a few to roll their eyes and suggest he was preparing his excuse should he fall short of the title in Melbourne. His unprofessionalism in attacking Federer in the press prompted even some Nadal fans to say they had lost respect for him. Then this latest bit about hurting his knee while in a chair has sadly caused many to laugh and makes cracks about him. He’s achieved too much already in his career to slowly morph into a joke, especially at his own hands.
It didn’t take long for the tournament to suffer a couple of high-profile losses. On the women’s side, Sam Stosur crashed out early to big-hitting Sorana Cirstea. Not sure why some were insistent on calling this a shocker. Sam had a poor lead up to Melbourne, and it’s been evident she’s nervous playing in front of the home crowd. She was ripe for the upset. The slightly bigger surprise was Fish exiting early. Again, this wasn’t completely unforeseen. We saw shades of the old Fish in Perth, and unfortunately for him, it was the old Fish who showed up to play Falla. That’s what made his loss so much more disappointing. Falla played a complete match, and rather than digging in his heels, Fish decided to whine and complain about it. If he’s going to start behaving that way again, he’s in for an agonizing and frustrating season.
Fans may have witnessed some key moments in the careers of young guns Christina McHale and Bernard Tomic. American teenager McHale showed more than a hint of promise last season, and she’s backing it up well here in 2012. She won her opening match in straight sets over 24 seed Safarova before digging deep to pull out a victory against local favorite Erakovic. She still has plenty of room for growth, but for sure she’s looking like the real deal. On the men’s side, Tomic gave fans plenty to cheer. Down two sets to none against Verdasco, it appeared that Tomic was going to falter under the weight of his nation’s expectations in the opening round of Day 1 on Rod Laver Arena. But he kept his head about him, Verdasco got nervous, and Tomic delivered in five. He followed that up with a nice come-from-behind four-set win against Sam Querrey. These are the kind of matches that build character, and Tomic is showing that he’s continuing to mature and develop. 2012 most likely will be a growing year for both, but expect great things from each of these upstarts in the near future.
Someone who wasn’t talked up too much coming into Australia was Maria Sharapova. But in both of her opening matches, Sharapova has been a pillar of consistency, striking the ball as cleanly as ever. She should now be considered a strong contender to reach the quarters, where Serena Williams may await. Serena clipped her badly last they met, but based on current form, Serena should be the more worried if that quarterfinal clash comes to pass. On the men’s side, a tip of the hat to Lleyton Hewitt. He’s a longer shot than Sharapova to go far here, and an Andy Roddick injury helped his cause in reaching the third round. But considering his many injuries and the type of surgeries he’s undergone, he’s moving extremely well. There’s definitely some fight and game left in the tank, so don’t be surprised to see him post some impressive runs this season.
That’s the problem with ambiguous rules, and unfortunately, it leaves some players on the short end of the stick. Coming off a heart-breaking five-set loss to John Isner, Nalbandian criticized what he (rightfully) considered poor officiating at the end of the enthralling encounter. In looking at the replay, Nalbandian definitely took some time in looking for the mark after he had confirmed that Chair Umpire Nouni had overruled the linesperson and called an Isner serve in. As a result, when he made the challenge, Nouni ruled Nalbandian had taken too long and didn’t allow the challenge. In principle, I agree with Nouni. Challenges are supposed to be in a timelier manner. But in Nalbandian’s defense, when is that rule ever truly enforced? And in a moment like that, as ambiguous as the challenge time rule is, you gotta let Nalbandian have that challenge (especially since it was revealed Nouni’s overrule was incorrect).