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.
by James A. Crabtree
What we have learned Down Under, so far…
The Hopman Cup got the new tennis year started, even before the New Year had arrived.
Perth, the worlds most isolated city welcomed Tomic the Tank Engine who quickly became Saint Bernie after an impressive victory over a jet-lagged Djokovic. Still, it was a memorable enough performance by Bernard Tomic to inspire a tennis rich nation, starved of a real contender, to put their hopes in someone for the month of January.
John Isner looked rusty before he pulled out with an injury. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga looked confident and played aggressive focused tennis that would have pleased new coach Roger Rasheed. Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Haas both displayed improved physiques, sculptured during the off-season although they both may need a few matches until they find some form.
Surprisingly Spain took the spoils that included a diamond encrusted ball, much in part thanks to Anabel Medina Garrigues who only lost one match, that being in a dead group match versus Venus Williams.
Praise should be bestowed on Djokoic and Ivanovic who won the hearts of the Perth crowd, for their lighthearted manor and their attempt at Gangnam Style.
Meanwhile the Brisbane Open had been playing out over on the other side of the country. This turned out to be a relative disaster for the home nation. Every Aussie player fell by the second round. Only qualifier John Millman, in his second round loss, showed true guts with a three set thriller against eventual champion Andy Murray.
Over on the women’s side Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig turned heads with the sort of hard hitting not seen since Seles. Although she lost to Angelique Kerber she is most certainly a player for the future.
Serena Williams won the women’s event in typically devastating fashion that we have come to expect from the most dominant woman on tour. She wasn’t however seen supporting her rumoured boyfriend of last year, and young riser….
‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov, who is on the verge of getting a new nickname that has no reference to anybody but himself. His play this past week has been sensational, capped off by clear cut victories over Milos Raonic, Marcos Baghdatis and Jurgen Melzer.
In truth the final versus defending champion Andy Murray could have been a very different story after Grig-er Dimit-ederer (ok so that’s a poor nickname, help me here!) punished with his inside out forehand and his new and improved serve. The young Bulgarian took a 5-2 lead in the first set and had breaks in the second as we all wondered if we were witnessing the second coming of Fed.
Murray, who is wearing the tightest shirts seen since Borg this year, staged his usual counter-punching comeback every time he was counted out. Regardless, place a bet on Grigs the Great to be a top twenty player by the end of this year.
Up next is Sydney which was won last year by Victoria Azarenka and surprise winner Jarkko Nieminen. Oh yes midway through next week is the invitational AAMI Classic at Kooyong, where there is a strong rumour ol’ Mr Federer will be appearing for the first time since 2009.
By James Crabtree
A tour round Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne Park will lead you to the player changing and locker rooms, where some interesting stories are revealed.
First up, only the top 87 players are entitled to a locker. So bad luck Filippo Volandri who currently stands at 88 in the world rankings.
A certain number of superstitions exist for those who pick their locker. For starters, Roger Federer will have locker number 5, because he is going for his fifth title. No surprise which locker he will have the following year if he wins.
Marcos Baghdatis always has locker 83, because Andre Agassi had it prior and, of course, considerable success at the Open. How many racquets Marcos will bring to Melbourne this year is still to be determined, but let’s hope he brings enough, especially after last year’s antics…
Novak Djokovic will have 86, because it is next to a mirror. Novak is also known to play lots of practical jokes in the locker room to kill time.
Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray always wait for Djokovic and Federer to pick their locker, so they can locker-up on the opposite side away from their rivals.
Out on the courts, the play for the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs has been exceptional and the weather has been four seasons of “hot.” Yellow Card devotee Matthew Barton dodged a bullet in reaching the semi-final on a court you could have cooked an egg on. Youngster Nicholas Kyrgios led 4-1 in the fifth set only to start grabbing his legs with some suspected Andy Murrayitis — you know an injury that isn’t an injury but always gets the commentators worried. Devastatingly for Kyrgios, it was severe cramp. After brief reprisal and two injury timeouts Krygios retired from the match sending Barton through after three hours and forty four minutes on court, and a score of 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 3-4.
Ben Mitchell whose brother is actor Luke Mitchell aka Romeo Smith from Home and Away, will meet Barton in the next round. The unassuming second seed John-Patrick Smith rounds out the draw against former Bollettieri attendee Matt Reid.
(James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park for the December Showdown and giving us the scoop on all the latest news surrounding the Australian Open. Make sure to heck out his first and second installments of “Sights and Sounds.”)
Dec. 11, 2012 — American tennis player and world No. 127 Maria Sanchez has been forced to withdraw from this week’s Australian Open Wild Card Playoff in Norcross, GA, citing precautionary reasons related to knee tendinitis. She is still planning on playing Auckland at the end of the month to kick off her 2013 season.
Sanchez is now the third player who has withdrawn from the tournament, following the announcement last week of Jack Sock and Steve Johnson being replaced by Tim Smyczek and Chase Buchanan.
UPDATE: It has been confirmed that world No. 183 and Atlanta native Grace Min will take Sanchez’ open spot at the Playoffs.
(Photo via Maria Sanchez Facebook Page)
By James Crabtree
It really is hard to comprehend how much work goes into staging a grand slam. Everyone is hustling and bustling and breaking into a sweat, from workman in hardhats to stressed out suits. Offices are moving locations, sponsorship boards are being put into place and players are trying secure practice courts or just a comfy seat to rest their weary bones.
Chances are if you ask any of the players playing in the December Showdown, if they have read a book recently, they will say it is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. On top of that erotic bombshell, the majority carry five racquets, listen to hard thumping house music and enjoy Will Ferrell movies. Matthew Barton was the true exception claiming an appreciation for Michael J. Fox.
On the courts, the only sound Sam Groth heard during his first match was his own. During much of his loss to the number 4 junior in the world, Nicholas Kyrgios, Groth provided a play by play narrative of his troubles. Kyrgios — who reminded one onlooking coach of a tall David Nalbandian — handled the fastest server in the world with relative ease, proving why he might be a name to be remembered in years to come.
One player to avoid an upset was Greg Jones who came back from two sets to love down to defeat Michael Look 2-6 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-4 in three and a half hours. The last time the very relieved Jones lost a five set match was the 2012 Australian Open, when he was two sets to love up against Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Two-time junior grand slam champion Luke Saville started his campaign with a win over Andrew Whittington that included the longest tie break he had ever played in winning the fourth set. After the match, he was quick to speak on his desire to not only rise up the rankings, but to one day also get the call from Pat Rafter of representing his country for Davis Cup. Based on today’s performance, that call shouldn’t be too far away.
By the way, the weather in Melbourne officially didn’t reach four seasons although it was blustery then hot, hotter and then stinging …
(James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park for the December Showdown and giving us the scoop on all the latest news surrounding the Australian Open. Check out his first installment of “Sights and Sounds” here.)
By James Crabtree
The countdown to the Australian Open has begun! January 14 is getting closer.
Not long to go now.
So, whats been happening?
Let’s just say Melbourne Park has been hectic, and its not just the renovations (indoor courts, clay courts, plexi courts, plunge pools, training rooms etc), which have been immense.
Firstly, whenever you are in Melbourne chances are somebody will say “it’s like four seasons in one day.” This is funny the first few times, then drives you up the wall, then you find yourself saying to somebody you think isn’t from here: “Did I mention Melbourne is like four seasons in one day?”
Anyway, the tennis.
Doubles legend Todd Woodbridge has been on court, seemingly everyday. More impressive than that is the fact the guy simply does not age, L’Oreal really needs to sign this guy up because he could have easily snuck into the under 18 event.
Speaking of juniors, there is a ton playing right now from the 12’s to the 18’s as part of the Optus Championships, and all trying to make their mark. Notable attendees at their matches have been U.S. college recruiters from some pretty big schools.
Australian No. 1 Marinko Matosevic has also seen working hard on the his court fitness drills with Greg Jones and the sort of trainer who should be yelling at people on The Biggest Loser.
Sam Stosur has been spotted drinking coffee in the cafeteria. Reports of what kind of coffee have yet to be verified although the barista believed it was a caffè latte with one sugar even though she wasn’t really paying attention. Consequently the same barista messed up my order, I wanted a mocha and got a cappuccino.
The world’s fastest server Sam Groth (with a record of 163.4 mph), has been on the practice court everyday and is looking very confident. The world’s 216th-ranked player should be a good bet to win next week’s December Showdown and claim the Australian Open Wild Card. Still don’t count out last year’s Showdown finalist though, James Duckworth, who made the second round of the Australian Open main draw and gave top 10 player Janko Tipsarevic a real scare.
That’s all from here for now. Did I mention Melbourne has four seasons in one day?
James Crabtree will be covering the December Showdown for the tournament’s website, and will also be covering next month’s Australian Open.