Our colleague James Crabtree will tell you everything that you want to know about the looming Federer-Tomic collision in a separate article, while we preview the other matches of note as the first week ends.
Berankis vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena): Recording his best performance to date here, Berankis cruised through his first two matches in straight sets and yielded just six games to the 25th seed, Florian Mayer. The bad news for him is that Murray has looked equally impressive in demolishing his early opponents, and his counterpunching style suits these courts better than the Lithuanian’s high-risk attack. Shorter than the average player, Berankis can pound first serves of formidable pace and crack fine backhands down the line. So far in his career, though, he has not done either with the consistency necessary to overcome an opponent of Murray’s versatility in a best-of-five format.
Simon vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena): Odd things can happen when two Frenchmen play each other, and odd usually equals entertaining in the first week of a major. Monfils should feel lucky to have reached this stage after tossing nearly 40 double faults in a bizarre start to his tournament, where the nine sets that he has played may hamper him against an opponent as fit and durable as Simon. His compatriot has looked fallible as well, meanwhile, dropping first sets to third-tier challengers Volandri and Levine. Against the quirky arsenal of shots that Monfils deploys stands Simon’s monochrome steadiness, which can look unglamorous but has proved superior in three of their four meetings.
Seppi vs. Cilic (Court 2): A second-week appearance at a hard-court major would mark a fine start to 2013 for Seppi in the wake of his breakthrough 2012, accomplished mostly on his favored clay. For Cilic, the achievement would come as less of a surprise considering his semifinal here three years ago and the ease with which his elongated groundstroke swings suit this surface. Near the middle of last season, he too signaled a revival by winning two small titles and reaching the second week at Wimbledon. Cilic has looked more likely than Seppi this week to build on last season, winning all six of his sets as the Italian narrowly escaped his second round in five.
Raonic vs. Kohlschreiber (Court 3): Seeking his second fourth-round appearance at Melbourne, Raonic passed the ominous test of Lukas Rosol with flying colors. That effort improved greatly upon his uneven effort in the first round, allowing him to conserve energy for his meeting with a flamboyant German. Defying national stereotypes, Kohlschreiber loves to throw caution to the wind by unleashing his cross-court backhand and inside-out forehand at the earliest opportunity, which will test Raonic’s vulnerable two-hander. In this first meeting, he may find the rising star’s serve too great a frustration to keep his composure as he battles to match hold for hold.
Vesnina vs. Vinci (Margaret Court Arena): Fresh from her first career title in Hobart, Vesnina has brought that confidence to the brink of the second week. Solid in most areas but outstanding in none, she faces a crafty Italian who coaxes errors from the unwary with unusual shots like a biting backhand slice. Vinci has become the best women’s doubles player in the world by virtue of an all-court game that compensates in variety for what it lacks in power. Her experience also should earn her a mental edge over the notoriously fragile Vesnina if the match stays close.
Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 2): This match lies very much on Kuznetsova’s racket, for better or for worse. Armed with one of the WTA’s more picturesque backhands, Suarez Navarro upset top-eight foe Errani and then outlasted a feisty assault from newcomer Yulia Putintseva. But Kuznetsova has cruised through her first two matches with the same brand of controlled aggression that fueled her strong week in Sydney. She lost to the Spaniard on a particularly feckless day at Indian Wells, showing her tendency to cross the line from bold to reckless too easily. Showing that Suarez Navarro has no answers for her best form are the routs that she recorded in their other encounters.
Stephens vs. Robson (Court 2): An encore of a match that Stephens won in Hobart, this battle offers Robson a chance to build upon her epic victory over Kvitova—provided that she can recover in time for another draining match. The Brit showed remarkable resilience despite her youth in that 20-game final set against a Wimbledon champion, although her level fluctuated throughout in a way that Stephens rarely does. Steadily climbing up the rankings, the American also has shown self-belief against even the most elite contenders, so a clash of wills awaits when the serves and forehands of the volatile lefty shot-maker meet the smooth, balanced groundstrokes of the counterpuncher.
Date-Krumm vs. Jovanovski (Court 2): The oldest woman remaining in the draw faces the potential next face of Serbian women’s tennis, young enough to be her daughter. A straightforward power baseliner in the traditional WTA mold, Jovanovski once lost a challenger final to Date-Krumm as she probably struggled to solve the sharp angles of the evergreen Japanese star. Many thought that Date-Krumm would have ended her second career by now, but she has proved them wrong this week with two decisive victories that place her within range of a truly remarkable feat: reaching the second week of a major as a 42-year-old. With much to gain and little to lose, each woman should rise to the occasion in a match of high quality.
With all of the American men gone by the third round of the Australian Open, we look back on how each of them fared. Interestingly, the greatest accomplishments came from some of the least expected names, while the more familiar figures often fizzled.
Ryan Harrison: Avenging his Olympics loss to Giraldo with a four-set victory, he relied on defensive tennis to a startling degree and could not trouble Djokovic at all in the second round. Harrison’s serve looked sharp, but he appears to have improved his game little over the last year or so.
Sam Querrey: The last man to fall fulfilled the expectations for the 20th seed, falling only to the higher-ranked Wawrinka. That straight-sets loss ended a reasonably good week for Querrey, although he benefited from Baker’s retirement and did not defeat anyone of note.
Brian Baker: Perhaps the saddest story of the tournament, he injured his knee in the second round against Querrey and may miss the next four months. That said, Baker impressed by battling through a tight five-setter against former American Bogomolov, and he had won the first set from Querrey in a match that looked like an upset before his injury.
Michael Russell: He drew Berdych in the first round and unsurprisingly had no answer for the Czech’s offensive arsenal, unable to match him hold for hold in a straight-sets defeat.
Tim Smyczek: The most pleasant surprise of the tournament among American men, he entered the draw as a lucky loser when Isner withdrew and made the most of his opportunity. Smyczek somehow tamed the towering serve of Ivo Karlovic in the first round, not even losing a set, and he snatched a set from world #5 David Ferrer in the second round before succumbing gallantly. Especially impressive was his comeback from losing the first nine games of that match to make Ferrer earn his victory.
Steve Johnson: Making his main-draw debut at the Australian Open, this former UCLA star qualified for the main draw and then received the unpleasant tidings of an opener against Almagro. But Johnson rose to the occasion with panache, firing first strikes with abandon through five entertaining sets as he stood toe to toe with a top-15 opponent despite his inexperience. His passion captivated and suggested that he can score an occasional surprise if he can refine his game.
Rajeev Ram: More noted for his doubles expertise, this serve-volley specialist surprised by winning his first match over baseliner Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Falling meekly to Cilic in the next round, Ram still probably overachieved by reaching that stage.
Rhyne Williams: The winner of the Australian Open wildcard playoff, he deployed his booming serve and forehand to brilliant effect in claiming a two-set lead over top-30 opponent Florian Mayer. Williams later would hold match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before the German wriggled out of the trap to complete a comeback in five. But the experience should help this promising young star evolve into a fitter, more tenacious competitor, which could prove a dangerous combination with his obvious talents.
All things considered, the American men produced respectable results in view of prominent absences like Fish, Isner, and the retired Roddick. With expectations especially low, they competed with credit and, in some cases, produced results on which they can build.
The most anticipated match of the first week in the women’s draw, the collision between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams turned into a proclamation of the former’s brilliance rather than the suspenseful epic for which many had hoped. Superior in every area to the seven-time major champion, the career Grand Slam holder notched a 6-1 6-3 victory that echoed her dazzling efforts from the previous two rounds against a much more dangerous foe.
Establishing the staccato tone of the rallies from the outset, both women swung for early winners rather than constructing points. Each of them struggled on serve initially, Venus starting the match with a double fault and Sharapova missing a series of first serves. With a barrage of forehands that kept her opponent off balance, the second seed started the match by breaking serve. Not subdued a whit, the American nearly broke back directly by cracking explosive returns on the Russian’s second serves. Three straight forehand errors from Venus allowed Sharapova to escape the game, however, and she collected her 27th consecutive game of the tournament when her own sterling returns subjected her opponent to pressure that contributed to a double fault.
Soon staring at a 0-4 deficit, the seven-time major champion rallied her spirits for a solid service hold that halted a streak of 28 straight games by Sharapova to start the season, a record in tennis history. A service winner toward the Russian’s forehand, a tactic that had worked well for her earlier, followed steadier groundstrokes. But that ray of hope marked the last flicker of positive news for Venus in the first set, which Sharapova captured soon thereafter with relentlessly aggressive tennis despite persistent struggles with locating her first serve.
The American’s fortunes only could improve in the second set, it seemed, and she started reasonably well by winning two points on her opponent’s serve. From there, though, a hold preceded a love break and a love hold to position Sharapova at 6-1, 3-0. Her back to the wall, Venus fell behind triple break point in what represented essentially triple match point. The veteran found the range on her groundstrokes when she most needed them, in addition to an impressive first serve that saved the last break point. Suddenly errant with her own groundstrokes, Sharapova lost the next five points to throw Venus a lifeline. Her control continued to waver during the ensuing service game, which started with two netted groundstrokes on the first three points. Still searching for her own rhythm, Venus donated four unforced errors to assist her opponent in retaining the 4-1 lead.
The last point in that fifth game unfolded in scintillating style with an escalation of percussive groundstrokes, though, the type of point that most fans anticipated from the match. Running desperately to track down Sharapova’s baseline bombs in her next service game, Venus produced the scrambling defense that had fueled much of her success over the last decade. The second seed responded by delivering a mighty statement of her own, crushing a first-serve return for a clean winner and then pounding a backhand winner down the line.
Down double break point again, Venus benefited from an unforced error on Sharapova’s return and stayed in a rally long enough to elicit an overeager groundstroke. The shot-making from the Russian struck back with a second-serve return winner that created a third break point, but another unforced error let it vanish. In control of most rallies, Sharapova nevertheless looked a little edgy as she could not quite deliver the terminal blow. Fortunately for her, Venus netted consecutive forehands to end the multiple-deuce game and hand her opponent two chances to serve for the match, celebrated with a fistpump and fierce roar from across the net.
That additional breathing room proved vital for Sharapova, who failed to find her first serve or her focus in the ensuing game. With some crisp returning, Venus reached triple break point before a series of expertly placed serves leveled the game at deuce. Sharapova compensated for a sluggish error on the next point with a breathtaking get, but Venus eventually converted her fifth opportunity with the poise of a champion who refuses to yield. Dropping serve for the first time in the tournament, she showed a tremor of vulnerability.
Back within range, Venus still needed to hold. She won an entertaining cat-and-mouse point at the net early in the next game, and she answered a fine Sharapova drop shot with a tidy slice of her own that set up a smash. Able to hold without facing a break point for just the second time in the match, the veteran began to look more confident in general. Perhaps thinking ahead to the next game, Sharapova dumped a second-serve return in the net to extend the match.
A rocketed forehand winner and a fine first serve quickly moved her to 30-0 before an ill-conceived challenge and a wild backhand evened the game. With a long forehand return, Venus set up a match point. Sharapova would not need another.
Crunching an ace down the center service line, the world #2 completed an authoritative 6-1 6-3 rout that vaulted her into the second week with an intimidating statement. Sharapova revealed just how much this victory over a Williams sister meant to her with a pulsating series of fist pumps and primal screams before striding to the net. Once there, she shook hands with her fellow legend courteously, shifting from ferocious to gracious in an instant.
Due to face Kirsten Flipkens in the fourth round, Sharapova towers above her section of the draw and will have soared even further in belief with this victory over a champion of such quality. This victory recalled her dominant performance against Lindsay Davenport in the first week of her 2008 title surge here. For Venus, meanwhile, the scoreline did not reflect her valiant effort late in the second set, when she came within two points of erasing a substantial deficit and improbably clawing back into the match. Once she puts this evening into perspective, she should feel proud of the way that she competed even if not satisfied with the result.
A plethora of intriguing encounters awaits audiences as the third round begins at the Australian Open. Foremost among them are two in the women’s draw, which we include in our latest preview.
Kerber vs. Keys (Rod Laver Arena): Long hovering on the horizon, the 17-year-old Madison Keys has soared into the consciousness of the tennis world by winning four main-draw matches in the last two weeks. Moreover, she has won most of them decisively, including routs of top-20 opponent Safarova in Sydney and the 30th-seeded Paszek here. The teenager’s serve could prove a crucial weapon against Kerber, whose superior steadiness and experience should prevail in rallies unless Keys can find a way to unsettle her, which she could with a strong start. Featured on the show court of a major for the first time, she seems more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the weight of the moment.
Li vs. Cirstea (RLA): Familiar with both rising and crumbling in spectacular style, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up split her two meetings with Cirstea at majors last year. Li defeated the heavy-hitting Romanian at Roland Garros but lost to her at Wimbledon before battling past her in a Cincinnati three-setter, so she will know what to expect. While Cirstea defeated Stosur in the first round here last year and can hope to capture that magic again, the moderately paced hard court in Australia would seem to favor Li’s more balanced game.
Sharapova vs. Williams (RLA): Scanning the WTA elite, one might not find two champions more similar in playing style than these two legends of first-strike tennis. Both Sharapova and Venus can hammer lethal missiles from both groundstroke wings, and both compete with the ferocity of women whose lungs illustrate their loathing for losing. Both have the ability to win free points in bunches with their serves, but both also can lose control of that shot beyond repair amidst cascades of double faults. Both have survived significant bouts of adversity, Sharapova by battling back from a career-threatening shoulder surgery and Venus by battling back from a career-threatening illness. While the American has accumulated a richer title haul, the Russian owns the more balanced resume.
Their record reflects much of the above, neatly balanced at 4-3 in Sharapova’s favor but skewed 4-1 in her favor away from Wimbledon, where Venus has claimed her greatest achievements. Not dropping a single game through her first two matches, Maria can expect a steep elevation in her opponent’s quality and must come as prepared to elevate her own quality as she did five years ago here against Davenport. Like her sister, Venus has produced some of her most dazzling surges when least expected, and she has looked quietly impressive if less overtly overpowering so far.
Ivanovic vs. Jankovic (Hisense): Those who appreciate tennis largely from an aesthetic perspective may wish to cover their eyes in a pairing of two women who sprayed disheveled errors to every corner of the court in their previous matches. Meanwhile, those who fancy their tennis served (or double-faulted) with a dollop of drama should enjoy this battle between two countrywomen who have feuded chronically but bitterly. The superior player by most measures, Ivanovic has dominated their head-to-head as her versatile forehand has hit through Jankovic’s baseline defense. So high do the emotions run in these matches, though, that one never knows what to expect from one point to the next.
Djokovic vs. Stepanek (RLA): In addition to their five-set epic at the 2007 US Open, Stepanek has troubled the Serb on two other occasions. He won a set from him at Wimbledon last year by using his idiosyncratic style to disrupt Djokovic’s rhythm. Even as his career has faded, Stepanek continues to revel in the spotlight and ended 2012 on a high note by winning the decisive match in Davis Cup. That momentum probably cannot lift him high enough to disturb Djokovic in Australia, where he looks as dominant as ever in all facets of his game.
Ferrer vs. Baghdatis (RLA): The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, Ferrer can falter at times with the distractions caused by partisan crowds. Supported vociferously by Melbourne legions of Greeks and Cypriots, Baghdatis hopes to revive the memories of his charge to the 2006 final. At this tournament two years ago, he became the first man ever to win after losing the first two sets to Ferrer at a major, surprising in view of their relative fitness. The fourth seed looked vulnerable in stretches against an overmatched opponent in the last round, while Baghdatis did likewise in another mismatch. His flat, net-skimming groundstrokes should offer an intriguing contrast to Ferrer’s safer topspin.
Anderson vs. Verdasco (Hisense): Reprising their meeting at the Hopman Cup this month, this match pits a rising against a fading star. Like Baghdatis, Verdasco has failed to duplicate his breakthrough performance in Melbourne (a 2009 semifinal), and he should count himself fortunate to escape a five-setter to start the tournament. On the other hand, Anderson followed his strong results in Perth with a final in Sydney, where he showed poise under pressure. Expect plenty of quick holds as each man struggles to crack the other’s serve.
Benneteau vs. Tipsarevic (MCA): Which Tipsarevic will show up here? The man who fired his way past Hewitt with a blizzard of electric shot-making, or the man who barely edged past Lacko in an unimaginative performance? Tipsarevic looked a bit drained after the heroics of his opener, and he may pay the price if he enters this match flat, for Benneteau rolled past trendy dark horse pick Dimitrov in the first round. Although streaky, the Frenchman represents a clear notch upward in quality from Lacko.
Querrey vs. Wawrinka (MCA): The lanky American with the casual power got a little too casual early in each of his first two matches, dropping the opening sets in both. Against Wawrinka, a natural grinder who thrives on long rallies, Querrey should discipline himself to eliminate such gifts. Having lost both of his previous meetings to the Swiss, including a US Open five-setter, he will need to maintain a higher first-serve percentage this time and aim to end points more efficiently.
Almagro vs. Janowicz (Court 3): In the wake of a bizarre five-set comeback against Devvarman, one wondered whether to praise Janowicz for his tenacity in roaring back after losing the first two sets, or to linger on his immaturity for letting his emotions run astray early in the match. Without that costly burst of petulance, the match likely would not have lasted as long as it did. Similarly, Almagro needed much longer than expected to dismiss American neophyte Steve Johnson in another five-setter. Between the Spaniard’s backhand and the Pole’s forehand, fans should see risky, flamboyant shot-making as each man hopes to exploit a weak section of the draw.
It is hard to build confidence without winning matches, but hard to win matches without having built confidence. Such is the situation in which Petra Kvitova has found herself lately, struggling to string together any victories as illness and injury have combined with a loss of form. In the night session on Rod Laver Arena, her struggles sprang to the surface in an ugly three-setter against Laura Robson, to whom she succumbed 2-6 6-3 11-9 after an improbable series of twists and turns.
Bearing some tape on her right ankle, the British teenager started in the most dreadful fashion imaginable by dropping her serve at love with two double faults, a forehand error, and a netted volley. A smartly angled backhand winner in the next game appeared to revitalize her fortunes, and two double faults from Kvitova set up a chance to regain the break, which she handed back to Robson with a gruesomely netted forehand. Despite another difficult service game, the younger woman escaped with consecutive aces towards her opponent’s forehand.
Following the two-game swing to Robson was a two-game swing for Kvitova, who began to find the range on her weapons more consistently than the Brit. She still remained very much bang-or-bust on serve, striking two aces and two service winners to outweigh a double fault and a wildly sprayed backhand in the sixth game. Rarely able to hit more than a few balls at the time before her opponent ended the point one way or another, Robson could establish little rhythm to settle into the match.
The teenager wielded plenty of powerful weapons herself, especially on her forehand, and she produced some inspired shot-making from that wing on the occasions when Kvitova gave her time. Those occasions came infrequently as the eighth seed’s high-risk style reaped rewards against an opponent often caught on the back foot. Lacking much experience against the weight of shot that Kvitova can unleash, Robson struggled to position herself or find the right amount of depth behind the baseline to defend her court adequately while looking for opportunities to attack.
An insurance break offered Kvitova two chances to serve for the set, but she clanked double faults on her first two set points just before Robson’s forehand caught fire. A long game ensued, unwinding through a series of oscillations between the ridiculous and the sublime on both sides. After she saved six break points, many created by blistering second-serve returns from Robson, Kvitova finally found consecutive first serves to close out the set.
Extending through deuce after deuce, the game illustrated how much the Czech depends on her first serve. With it, she took control of the point immediately and permitted no opportunity for Robson to regroup. Without it, she exposed herself nearly defenseless to explosive returns from which she could not recover.
Into the second set continued the staccato rhythm of points that ended after just a handful of strokes. Showing some fine resilience, Robson halted Kvitova’s run of games at five with a strong hold, and two more double faults left the Czech in another deuce situation. Then, the British teenager’s groundstrokes began to find the net with alarming consistency, a product of her flat swings. Robson lacks a margin for error when her timing goes awry at all on those shots, and her notoriously flammable temper began to simmer. Nevertheless, she clung to her serve in a match still searching for momentum.
A wildly sprayed backhand by Kvitova, who continued to betray a lack of belief, set up Robson with her eleventh break point and ninth break point of her previous three service games. Once she converted it with a penetrating return, the Brit survived a difficult service game of her own as her opponent alternately scarred lines and missed the doubles alleys with her shots. Particularly representative of her woes was a forehand putaway inside the service line that she smacked into the middle of the net.
Trying to regain the rhythm on her first serve, Kvitova experimented with taking some pace off the shot to increase her percentage, but Robson continued to punish her with returns. More wayward groundstrokes from the reeling eighth seed handed her opponent a 5-1 lead. When consecutive double faults threw her a lifeline, however, she seized it opportunistically to record a love hold. Just as the balance of power threatened to tip against her once more, though, Robson drew level again.
Now in a dogfight, Kvitova needed to start the third set positively. She did so, narrowly, with a hold of serve that displayed more consistency in rallies. That trend continued into the next few games as she broke the increasingly frustrated Robson with more accurate returning and started to find a groove with her first serve. Somehow releasing the tension in her shoulders, Kvitova began to swing more freely in the manner that had brought her to the top. The reprieve proved temporary, though, for another pair of double faults not only raised her total to 14 but set up a break point that Robson exploited.
Handed another break courtesy of Robson’s wavering serve, Kvitova tossed it back directly with a break at love. All the same, she clung to a 4-3 lead in the final set despite her increasingly downcast body language. When Robson held once more, Kvitova faced a dire moment with a break point that would have given her opponent a chance to serve for the match. Down crashed consecutive aces, a stunning and stunningly timely response to the adversity. Although the game would not ended until several points later, with another ace, Kvitova had Robson where she wanted her: serving to stay alive.
Or so she thought. Winning the first point of the tenth game, the Czech edged close to the finish line, only to see Robson outlast her in several tense rallies. With the rare hold in hand, the teenager broke Kvitova for the opportunity to serve for the match, but it quickly slipped away from her with loose forehand errors. A second-serve ace produced the first of six straight holds that brought the match to 9-9, not without Kvitova saving another break point in the fifteenth game.
The quality of the tennis improved distinctly over these last several games as both women fought valiantly with their backs to the wall. In the nineteenth game, Robson broke through when she followed a Kvitova backhand error with a sensational forehand return winner down the line. Drained of energy and hope, the Czech mustered no resistance as the teenager fired down a series of first serves en route to closing out the match at love. The triumph marked her second straight over a major champion in the second round of a major, following her upset of Clijsters at the US Open. For Kvitova, however, the loss marked her eighth in her last twelve matches and yet another dispiriting stage in a downward spiral that merely has deepened with time.
As he prepared for his 20th meeting with Nikolay Davydenko, Federer certainly knew what to expect from the Russian who had won only two of the previous nineteen. A shot-maker who excels at taking groundstrokes early and creating acute angles with them, Davydenko compensated with those skills and with a crisp return for his lack of a dominant serve.
Despite Federer’s stranglehold over their rivalry, many of their matches had stayed closer than the overall record suggested, such as a three-setter last year in Rotterdam. And, while Davydenko never quite regained his sharpest form following wrist surgery and an extended absence in 2010, he had flickered to life by reaching the Doha final this month after upsetting Ferrer. True to their history, none of that recent success mattered as Federer recorded a solid straight-sets triumph 6-3 6-4 6-4, during which did not face a break point against this quality returner.
Three years ago here, the Russian had led Federer by a set and a break before imploding en route to a four-set loss. This time, the Swiss looked in no mood to let his opponent dig such a hole for him, crafting two break points in Davydenko’s second service game. His movement and defense shone as he tracked down a barrage of those familiar angled groundstrokes, extending points long enough to extract errors from the inconsistent underdog. Davydenko salvaged both of those break points with more competitive resilience than we have come to expect from him, even at his best, but he could not turn that accomplishment into a break of his own in the next game. Escaping a deuce situation, Federer kept the pressure on the Russian.
That pressure bore fruit in the sixth game, although Davydenko saved two more break points with the help of a wayward Swiss who accumulated 14 unforced errors to that stage. An unforced error from his opponent on a cross-court backhand handed the first break of the match to Federer, though, and he wasted little time in consolidating the lead. Although Davydenko clung to his serve as he fended off another pair of break points, a love hold by Federer brought the first set to a routine conclusion. The second seed’s groundstrokes had looked uneven so far, but his serve offered him a decisive advantage over his opponent.
A quick break early in the second set confirmed the suspicion that Davydenko might not sustain a high level of resistance against a player who had conquered him so many times. The weight of his futility against Federer had appeared to weigh upon him in many of their marquee meetings before, and such seemed the case again. Endowed with a wry sense of humor and the fatalistic streak that often accompanies it, Davydenko looked resigned to his fate after a set and a half. His shoulders sagged as Federer strolled around the court with the gait of a man who knew himself master of the moment.
The rest of the second set unfolded uneventfully. When a slight spot of bother surfaced in the eighth game, which he trailed 15-30, Federer found the first serves that he needed to shut Davydenko’s narrow window of hope. In the following game, he let a set point slip away on his opponent’s serve with a forehand error and squandered another as well. Now 2 for 11 on break points, Federer did not allow that dismal record to trouble him and comfortably served out the 6-4 set.
Only two men, Tsonga and Djokovic, ever have defeated Federer at a major after losing the first two sets, and the aging Davydenko clearly lacked the willpower to join them. He dropped his serve meekly t start the third and never seriously threatened thereafter in a match that had seemed perfunctory for much of the last two sets. Under some pressure in an early service game, Federer threaded a lovely backhand pass down the line to negate a strong Davydenko cross-court approach and held two points later with a pinpoint drop shot. Several games later, the Swiss finished his outing with a service winner.
To be sure, Federer looked a few notches below his vintage self tonight, often shanking routine groundstrokes and enduring a poor break-point conversion ratio. But he still will enter his third-round match against Bernard Tomic as a heavy favorite considering the latter’s unimpressive performance earlier in the day. Tomic narrowly escaped qualifier Daniel Brands while struggling with his return game, an issue that will loom large against Federer’s sparkling serve. The world #2 thus can expect to play himself into the tournament one round at a time.
Leaving Federer vs. Davydenko for a special, detailed preview by one of our colleagues here, we break down some highlights from the latter half of second-round action on Day 4.
Brands vs. Tomic (Rod Laver Arena): A tall German who once caused a stir at Wimbledon, Brands has won four of his first five matches in 2013 with upsets over Chardy, Monfils, and Martin Klizan among them. As sharp as Tomic looked in his opener, he cannot afford to get caught looking ahead to Federer in the next round. Brands can match him bomb for bomb, so the last legitimate Aussie threat left needs to build an early lead that denies the underdog reason to hope.
Lu vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena): Is La Monf finally back? He somehow survived 16 double faults and numerous service breaks in a messy but entertaining four-set victory over Dolgopolov. Perhaps facilitated by his opponent’s similar quirkiness, the vibrant imagination of Monfils surfaced again with shot-making that few other men can produce. This match should produce an intriguing contrast of personalities and styles with the understated, technically solid Lu, who cannot outshine the Frenchman in flair but could outlast him by exploiting his unpredictable lapses.
Falla vs. Gasquet (Court 3): The Colombian clay specialist has established himself as an occasional upset threat at non-clay majors, intriguingly, for he nearly toppled Federer in the first round of Wimbledon three years ago and bounced Fish from this tournament last year. A strange world #10, Gasquet struggled initially in his first match against a similar clay specialist in Montanes. He recorded a series of steady results at majors last year, benefiting in part from facing opponents less accomplished than Falla. The strength-against-strength collision of his backhand against Falla’s lefty forehand should create some scintillating rallies as Gasquet seeks to extend his momentum from the Doha title two weeks ago.
Mayer vs. Berankis (Court 6): While Berankis comfortably defeated the erratic Sergei Stakhovsky in his debut, Mayer rallied from a two-set abyss to fend off American wildcard Rhyne Williams after saving multiple match points. He must recover quickly from that draining affair to silence the compact Latvian, who punches well above his size. Sometimes touted as a key figure of the ATP’s next generation, Berankis has not plowed forward as impressively as others like Raonic and Harrison, so this unintimidating draw offers him an opportunity for a breakthrough.
Raonic vs. Rosol (Court 13): The cherubic Canadian sprung onto the international scene when he reached the second week in Melbourne two years ago. The lean Czech sprung onto the international scene when he stunned Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon last year. Either outstanding or abysmal on any given day, Rosol delivered an ominous message simply by winning his first match. For his part, Raonic looked far from ominous while narrowly avoiding a fifth set against a player outside the top 100. He needs to win more efficiently in early rounds before becoming a genuine contender for major titles.
Robson vs. Kvitova (RLA): Finally starting to string together some solid results, the formerly unreliable Robson took a clear step forward by notching an upset over Clijsters in the second round of the US Open. Having played not only on Arthur Ashe Stadium there but on Centre Court at the All England Club before, she often produces her finest tennis for the grandest stages. If Robson will not lack for inspiration, Kvitova will continue to search for confidence. She found just enough of her familiarly explosive weapons to navigate through an inconsistent three-setter against Schiavone, but she will have little hope of defending her semifinal points if she fails to raise her level significantly. That said, Kvitova will appreciate playing at night rather than during the most scorching day of the week, for the heat has contributed to her struggles in Australia this month.
Peng vs. Kirilenko (Hisense): A pair of women better known in singles than in doubles, they have collaborated on some tightly contested matches. Among them was a Wimbledon three-setter last year, won by Kirilenko en route to the quarterfinals. The “other Maria” has faltered a bit lately with six losses in ten matches before she dispatched Vania King here. But Peng also has regressed since injuries ended her 2011 surge, so each of these two women looks to turn around her fortunes at the other’s expense. The Russian’s all-court style and fine net play should offer a pleasant foil for Peng’s heavy serve and double-fisted groundstrokes, although the latter can find success in the forecourt as well.
Wozniacki vs. Vekic (Hisense): Like Kvitova, Wozniacki seeks to build upon the few rays of optimism that emanated from a nearly unwatchable three-set opener. Gifted that match by Lisicki’s avalanche of grisly errors, the former #1 could take advantage of the opportunity to settle into the tournament. Wozniacki now faces the youngest player in either draw, who may catch her breath as she walks onto a show court at a major for the first time. Or she may not, since the 16-year-old Donna Vekic crushed Hlavackova without a glimpse of nerves to start the tournament and will have nothing to lose here.
Hsieh vs. Kuznetsova (Margaret Court Arena): A surprise quarterfinalist in Sydney, the two-time major champion defeated Goerges and Wozniacki after qualifying for that elite draw. Kuznetsova rarely has produced her best tennis in Melbourne, outside a near-victory over Serena in 2009. But the Sydney revival almost did not materialize at all when she floundered through a three-setter in the qualifying. If that version of Kuznetsova shows up, the quietly steady Hsieh could present a capable foil.
Putintseva vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 7) / Gavrilova vs. Tsurenko (Court 8): Two of the WTA’s most promising juniors, Putintseva and Gavrilova face women who delivered two of the draw’s most notable first-round surprises. After Suarez Navarro dismissed world #7 Errani, Tsurenko halted the surge of Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova in a tense three-setter. Momentum thus carries all four of these women into matches likely to feature plenty of emotion despite the relatively low stakes.
Somewhat like Bernard Tomic looking ahead to his projected third-round meeting with Federer, Ryan Harrison approached his second-round match against world #1 Novak Djokovic in confident mood. His swagger quickly dissolved, though, under the ferocious hail of groundstrokes that the two-time defending champion unleashed upon him. Harrison fell to 0-16 against top-10 foes following this resounding 6-1 6-2 6-3 defeat, which could serve as much of a valuable lesson to him moving forward as it did a demonstration of Djokovic’s multifaceted talents.
The first set was essentially stillborn as Harrison double-faulted away a break at love in his first service game and won only one point in the first three games overall. Known for his volatile emotions, the youngster looked too overeager at the beginning to unleash his offense, which played into the hands of Djokovic’s sturdy baseline counterpunching. Although he held serve in the fourth game, Harrison made no impact on the rest of the first set as he failed to break through the Serb’s defenses, even attempting a desperate serve-volley gambit. Losing hardly any points on his own serve, Djokovic collected an insurance break when the American netted a tepid attempt at a backhand slice. One routine service hold later, the set belonged to the top seed.
Quickly trailing by a break in the second set as well, Harrison needed a 137-mph ace to find his way onto the scoreboard and avoid an embarrassing 6-1 3-0 deficit within barely half an hour. Free from any fear, Djokovic appeared to relish displaying his prowess on both offense and defense to the Rod Laver audience. A sprawling retrieval from his forehand corner drew an embarrassingly botched smash to end one point, and Harrison darted helplessly around the baseline to track down a smorgasbord of forehand blasts in another. Without that ace, the Serb might well have crammed a bagel down his feisty challenger’s throat. His bark proven much worse than his bite, Harrison slumped to a double-break deficit again.
In a characteristic display of perfectionism, Djokovic slumped in apparent dejection when he failed to break Harrison one more time for the first set. Moments later, however, it lay in his ledger with a 6-2 scoreline only slightly less imposing than the breadstick that had started the match. On the final point of the second set, he stretched well wide of the doubles alley on his forehand, pursuing a quality cross-court forehand from Harrison that skidded off the sideline. Seemingly out of options, Djokovic planted himself at full extension and ripped a forehand at an unanswerable angle, a perfect illustration of his mastery over even the most difficult strokes tonight.
The clock finally struck the one-hour mark with Djokovic leading by two sets and 2-1 in the third. In the previous game, he had launched a return missile that landed precisely on the baseline as Harrison watched speechless. The American had entertained the Melbourne audience before then by sprinting across the entire length of the baseline in futile pursuit of a forehand and then leaping over one of the advertising placards next to the court. Somewhat more encouraging for Harrison was the quality of his serving near the end, when no suspense whatsoever remained in the match. The youngster valiantly held his serve for 3-4 following a long game filled with punishing groundstrokes from Djokovic—a game that proved the highlight of his night.
Shortly afterwards, Djokovic collected his 16th straight victory in Melbourne, the scene of his greatest achievements. As emphatic as any of the other victories for the leading men here, this match delivered a formidable statement towards those who would bar his path to a historic Australian Open trilogy.
After she had lost a painful three-setter to Zheng Jie in Sydney last week, Sam Stosur must have entered Rod Laver Arena with thoughts of revenge as well as some trepidation. The only Aussie women left in the singles draw, she had compiled a history of underachievement on home soil. Moreover, Stosur recently had recovered from surgery for a bone spur near her ankle, so she had looked rusty in her first few matches of 2013. What awaited was a stunning collapse at her home major that rivaled any of her disasters there before, although a different outcome looked likely if not nearly certain at more than one juncture.
Her confidence perhaps boosted by the first-round victory, the home hope started more solidly on serve than she had in Sydney. An errant forehand from Zheng produced an early break point for Stosur, but a netted backhand let the opportunity escape. The former US Open champion earned success by stretching the tenacious Chinese star wide along the baseline from the outset of the rallies, and by exploiting her physical limitations with kick serves and topspin-heavy groundstrokes. For her part, Zheng did what most of Stosur’s opponents try to do in finding her backhand wing, much less imposing than her forehand. But her second serve was a liability on which the Aussie tried to pounce, connecting on some return winners while spraying others well wide.
Through the first several games, Stosur held serve more comfortably than did Zheng, reversing a trend from their previous meeting. That pattern ended in the fifth game, when a horrifically shanked second serve that landed over the baseline set up two break points. Remarkably unruffled by the embarrassment, Stosur bounced back to hold with more accurate groundstrokes. She found herself in trouble again at 3-3, however, following a brilliantly angled backhand pass from Zheng that negated a strong approach. Watching a forehand return winner dart past her cross-court, Stosur faced triple break point. An entertaining cat-and-mouse exchange ensured with Zheng at the net and Stosur at the baseline, but the Chinese secured the last word with a deft volley.
Having claimed the first break of the match, Zheng opened her attempt to consolidate with a double fault. Emboldened by that ominous start, Stosur swung more confidently on her returns and soon drew level with consecutive forehand winners. She began to dictate the rallies more regularly as she ran around her backhand more often. That effort went wasted after a dreadful service game in which she yielded three double faults and an unforced error on break point, allowing Zheng to serve for the set.
This time, the Chinese moved quickly to triple set point, only to let all three slip away. A double fault erased a fourth, an unforced error a fifth, and a spectacular defensive lob from Stosur contributed to erasing a sixth just when Zheng looked on the verge of ended a rally that she had controlled. As she continue to struggle with her backhand, Stosur watched a seventh set point slip away and threatened to save an eighth as well. But she shanked a routine drive volley well long to end the epic game and sink into a one-set hole.
As Zheng’s steady defense continued to chip away, Stosur wobbled through another treacherous service game. Six deuces and two break points later, she ended a two-game stretch that had lasted 34 points. Stosur began to venture towards the net more often, sometimes succeeding in taking time away from Zheng and sometimes punished by her opponent’s crisp passing shots. Two explosive forehand returns enabled her to record the first break of the second set, in the fourth game. As her confidence rose, Stosur began to prey upon Zheng’s serve more ruthlessly. An insurance break sealed by a sequence of penetrating forehands allowed her to cruise through the second set. To this stage, the match had resembled their Sydney encounter, although that second set had reached a tiebreak.
More self-assured in her body language now, Stosur began to show the poise that she needed to sustain her momentum in the third. In the first game of the final set, she won a long backhand-to-backhand exchange with the sort of patience that had eluded her in the first set. Now more in control of her weapons, the Aussie earned an immediate break from the fading Zheng. Another brief momentum shift awaited when she dropped her serve at love with a double fault, but her opponent dropped her own serve for the fourth straight time without much resistance. A key turning point came in the next game, when Sam again fell behind 0-40 before climbing out of the deficit with penetrating groundstrokes. Saving two more break points before the game ended, she established a 3-1 lead more through perseverance than brilliance.
With a double-break advantage hers, Stosur had two opportunities to serve out the match and clinch her berth in the third round. In a stunning twist of events, she could convert neither of them, never arriving at a match point. The invigorated Zheng fired a series of fierce groundstrokes to reach 5-5 and thrust the pressure squarely back on the favorite’s shoulders. Never a player who surrenders easily, the Chinese forced Stosur to fight for each point that she won, a task that her faltering nerves struggled to handle.
Serving to stay alive now, Stosur quickly fell behind 0-30 with a backhand error. Two points later, Zheng cracked a forehand winner down the line to set up double match point. At that moment, Stosur ended her own misery with a gruesome double fault into the net that completed her stunning collapse, 6-4 1-6 7-5, and left no home hopes in the women’s singles draw here. Before the third day of the 2013 Australian Open ended, only Tomic and Duckworth remained among the legions of Aussies who had arrived in Melbourne.