by Pey Jung Yeong, Special for Tennis Grandstand
The first day of a Grand Slam, where it all begins, is always very busy and very bright, with a sense of excitement and anticipation floating in the air. There’s just so much for one to do once they stepped through the gates of Melbourne, There are 64 matches scheduled throughout the entire day, in addition to player practice sessions, and not to mention the Grand Slam Oval, where Australian Open goers can relax with a glass of wine, play some games and collect come goodies.
My first day at Australian Open this year largely revolves around, well, the tennis. Whilst I do love the Grand Slam Oval and all they have to offer, I am more often than not dazzled by the tennis on display. Even without the tickets to the two main arenas, there are 55 other matches for me to choose from. Those who have been to Grand Slams will understand how I feel – it’s like a child in a sweet shop – where you just want (to see) EVERYTHING. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing two players compete for the chance to advance their career and their dreams in one of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis. One will see it all on the first day – the gritty, determined wins, the melt-downs, the come backs, and for some, effortless victories.
Armed with a grounds pass, I hopped and sailed from one match to the next, soaking up all the wonderful tennis on display. I saw the gutsy Argentinean youngster, 19-year-old Paula Ormaechea putting up an impressive show to steal the first set 6-1 from the more experience Simona Halep. Inexperience would then get the better of her in the second set, but she would then prevail in the third, recording her first win in a Grand Slam main draw.
Another 19-year-old, Australian Bernard Tomic, defeated the 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco in five sets, coming back from 2-sets-to-love down. I didn’t personally see the match live, although I was catching bits and pieces of it through the TV screens in Hisense Arena. One may say Verdasco’s mental fortitude is questionable, but one must also give credit to Tomic for outlasting Verdasco mentally and physically, given his relative inexperience.
I also saw two sentimental favourites fall – Ivan Ljubicic losing to Lukas Lacko in five sets, and Nikolay Davydenko losing to Flavio Cipolla in five sets. It was never easy to see a favourite lose, and even harder to see the sheer disappointment, frustration and sorrow on their faces after that last ball was struck.
However, the two matches in which I spent majority of my time at would be matches featuring two of my favourite players; and I couldn’t have picked two matches more different.
I’ve been attracted to Alexandr Dolgopolov’s funky game ever since I saw him as a skinny blonde kid playing against Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters in 2009. He has developed his game in leaps and bounds since then – yet maintaining that touch of unpredictability that is exciting and breathtaking to watch. At the same time, his impulsiveness in his game translates into inconsistency that can be frustrating to see. And all of that was on display today in his first-round match against Australian Greg Jones.
I actually did not see the first two sets as I was watching player practices and other outside court matches. By the time I was ready to head into Dolgopolov’s match, I found out – much to my chagrin and horror – that he was down two-sets-to-love, and to quote the exact words of my friend, “Crazy (our nickname for Dolgopolov) is playing crazy awful”.
Well – I decided that if he is going to lose, then he will lose in front of me. When I finally got myself a seat at the arena, Dolgopolov had broken in the third set and had just successfully saved breakpoints against him. One would think perhaps all would be right, but then, one could never trust Dolgopolov to be ordinary. Fortunately, he seemed to have found his groove, and aided by a tiring and increasingly nervous Jones as well as his own experience, he breezed though the next three sets in easy fashion.
What I noticed about Dolgopolov throughout this 5-setter where he came very close to a first-round exit, was how calm he seemed about his situation. Although a lot of shots he hit were questionable (and crazy), I never once felt that he hit those shots out of panic. He hit them because he felt that it was the right shot to hit, and when it all went terribly wrong, he simply shrugged his shoulders, tossed his ponytail, and move on. Even as he hit screaming winners from impossible angles that had the pro-Aussie crowd cheering and clapping, he remained strangely apathetic, never really showing any visible expression. He wasn’t completely emotionless – as I’d heard that his error-strewn game elicited a racquet throw at the end of the second set, but most of the time, he was poker-face cool, his show of emotions few and far in between. And perhaps that was what carried him through the match.
The other match I saw would be the Rod Laver Arena main evening attraction, with Roger Federer and Alexander Kudryavstev. One is a 16-time Grand Slam winner, the other mainly thrived in Challenger Tours and was appearing in his debut Australian Open main draw. However, the underdog was hanging in with the champion, matching him shot for shot, sending forehand winners searing cross-court and down the lines, pushing Federer to a 5-all in the first set. With a probability of a tie-breaker looming, Federer upped his ante and roared through Kudryavstev’s last service game, sealing a break to take the set.
In the next two sets, Federer began to find his rhythm in playing his opponent, and despite a drop of serve in the third set, he was never threatened and wrap his first Grand Slam match of the year in straight sets. His win was capped with a hilarious on-court interview where he talked about researching his opponent on the Internet and passing on the responsibility of coaching his twin daughters (should they happen to play and love tennis) to his wife.
The first day of 2012’s first Grand Slam was also very very hot and extremely crowded, but that’s all part of the experience of attending the first day of such a huge event. And it continues again the next day – the top half of the draw, 64 more matches, and undeniably, more drama and more breathtaking tennis.
Pey Jung Yeong is in Melbourne covering the Australian Open and writes for the tennis blog All I Need is a Picket Fence. You can follow her updates on twitter here.
by Pey Jung Yeong, Special for Tennis Grandstand