2009, Australian Open
Australian Open, Melbourne
January 19-February 1, 2009; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Hard
Rafael Nadal’s another important step on his way to become the most successful player of the Open era. The Spaniard, who had won four French Open titles in succession on clay, and Wimbledon once on grass, triumphed for the first time in a major held on hardcourts. Nadal captured the title with two marathons in the end, amazingly, Novak Djokovic will claim the Aussie Open title three years later, surviving even two longer matches in the end!
First round: (ATP)
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal sent out a strong message to his title rivals as he began his Australian Open campaign in devastating form by crushing Belgian Christophe Rochus 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday in Melbourne. “I played well, especially the serve and the forehand,” reflected Nadal. “Well, I play always good concentration all the time. Serving very well, I think. And with the forehand, moving very good the ball around the court.” The left-hander compiled a tour-leading 46-10 hard-court record last season, including titles at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Canada, the Beijing Olympics and a semi-final appearance at the US Open. In the second round he will face Croatian Roko Karanusic, who edged past Florent Serra 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Victor Hanescu produced an astonishing comeback defeating Jan Hernych 3-6, 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(4), 8-6 in 4 hours 32 minutes. That’s one of the best comebacks in Grand Slam history! Hanescu saved a match point in two different sets and was four points away from losing the 5th set (!): 3rd set – Hernych was serving for the match at 5:4; Hanescu was 6:7 in the tie-break on Hernych’s serve; 4th set – Hanescu was losing *3:4 (two break points), *4:5 (second match point); 5th set: Hernych was serving for the match at 6:5 – lost that game to ‘love’! Last year’s runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a confident start to his campaign by beating Argentine Juan Monaco 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. The fifth seed from France fired 27 winners and dropped only five points behind his first serve as he surged to victory in 1 hour and 41 minutes. In the second round he will face Ivan Ljubicic, who avoided a seventh first round Australian Open loss as he came through a thrilling five set encounter with Russian Igor Kunitsyn 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-3 on Court 13. Ljubicic saved two set points in the 3rd set tie-break, then blew a *4:2 lead in the 4th set. In the decider, the Croat already led 5:0* (30/0) and lost 12 points in a row. American No. 9 seed James Blake extended his perfect first round record to eight years at the Australian Open as he knocked out Frank Dancevic 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. The 29 year old reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the first time last year, also equaling his best Grand Slam record having reached that stage twice at the US Open in 2005-06. The right-hander next will face Frenchman Sebastien De Chaunac, who defeated Belgian Steve Darcis 2-6, 6-3, 0-6, 6-2, 6-2. Elsewhere, Russian No. 18 seed Igor Andreev will tackle up-coming Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the second round after both advanced in quite different manners. The 25-year-old Andreev rallied from a two-set deficit to account for Canadian Peter Polansky 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, while 20-year-old Gulbis reached the second round for the first time as he cruised past Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Bernard Tomic  had just beaten Italian  Potito Starace 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(6) in his second senior main draw match. At 16 years and 90 days, Tomic is the youngest man to win a match at the Australian Open, having last year become the second-youngest winner of the junior title. Hewitt was 15 years and 11 months when he lost to Sergi Bruguera to four sets on debut as a qualifier in 1997. For Tomic, it was “a dream come true to win a first round in my first grand slam. I’m just thrilled that I could pull off a win.” For Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, the excitement needed to be tempered by Starace’s shortcomings away from the clay that has delivered his best results: “Tomic’s got some more work to do, but… he hasn’t got a bad draw. Best to play against guys who have come from Europe and kill themselves in 35-degree heat.” “The contrast with Starace was extreme. The tattooed Italian is a journeyman aged 27, playing in his 18th Grand Slam event, having lost in the first round in 14 of the previous 17. Tomic still wears braces on his teeth, but from the age of 12 he has been one of the best in the world for his age. Sporting sunglasses and a blue bandana, Tomic looked the goods from the outset, peeling off successive baseline winners to clinch his opening service game of the match before breaking Starace for an early 4:2 lead. Since that moment Starace dominated his 11 years younger opponent over an hour winning 14 of the next 18 games, but lost the 1st set in the tie-break. The match swung in the 3rd, and Tomic showed more composure to claw back from 4:1 down to force a tie-break which he went on to win. Tomic cut down on his unforced errors in the 4th set, and again came back from a break down to force a third tie-break. He saved two set points before earning a match point in the 195th minute, sending the mostly green-and-gold clad crowd into a frenzy. Novak Djokovic began his campaign of the tile defense with a little hiccup during his win over qualifier Andrea Stoppini 6-2, 6-3, 7-5. The Serb came back from *0:4 in the 3rd set, and 4:5 (30-all). In the second round he faces Gilles Muller, who survived a battle of big-servers against Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6(5), 4-6, 4-6, 16-14 in 4 hours 22 minutes. Muller served 47 aces, Lopez 39. There were just four breaks of serve, the last one in the 30th game of the final set! Brilliant service performance demonstrated also John Isner, in vain though. The American fired 39 aces in four sets (19 in the opening set – record for a tie-break set!), but was broken thrice and lost to Dominik Hrbaty 6-7(4), 6-2, 2-6, 5-7. Roger Federer, three times a winner of the Australian Open, endured 2nd set in which he was down a set point, and was challenged by Andreas Seppi more sternly than the scores – 6-1, 7-6(4), 7-5 – indicated. After a lightning-fast start, the Swiss had more than one difficult moment against the 35th-ranked Italian. Notably in the second set when Seppi held a set point, and the Italian’s sliced approach shot sailed millimeters wide of the sideline, a fact verified by the technology. Reprieved, Federer closed out the set quickly in the tie-break, leaving Seppi with a near-impossible task. Still, the Italian fought gamely, twice holding break points in the 3rd set. Ultimately, Federer was too classy, securing the match when Seppi hit a forehand long. Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt has been knocked out in the first round of the Australian Open. Hewitt, playing his first Grand Slam tournament since undergoing hip surgery, pushed 2007 finalist and 13th seed Fernando Gonzalez to five sets, but the Chilean was too strong, taking the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. The loss will most likely force Hewitt out of the world’s top 100 players. Hewitt says his service game let him down. “I wasn’t quite serving as well as I had earlier in the match,” he said “Even though I won the fourth set I didn’t feel like I had my best serving set that set at all, and then the fifth set i didn’t serve great. I have gave him too many chances to dictate with his forehand, and that was probably the telling point in the end.”
Second round: John Ashdown, Tanalee Smith
36-year-old Fabrice Santoro  won last big match in his career as he defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 5-7, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in 4 hours 5 minutes cramping badly in the end. In the 4th set, the German led *2:0, then at 4:3 he had a mini-match point. In the last game of the match Santoro began to suffer cramps. When he reached his first match point he decided to go to his chair to get water, it cost him code violation but allowed to figure out what to do next – and he chose to attack the net after a sliced return – it surprised the German who played tentative shot and Santoro barely standing finished the match with a volley! Santoro said about Kohlschreiber: “I knew him for a couple years. He’s the kind of player I like to watch on TV or when I can. Because he can do everything on the court. He moves well and serves well. Unbelievable backhand and the forehand is pretty good, too.” The No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal dropped just eight games on his way to a straight-sets victory over Croatia’s Roko Karanusic. The world No. 92 had little answer to the five-time Slam winner, with Nadal cruising to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win. The Spaniard has now dropped only 12 games in his six sets at the tournament so far, but remains third favorite behind Federer and Murray with most bookies. Nadal will face the former world No. 2 and three-time Australian Open semi-finalist Tommy Haas in the third round. It was another good day for the seeds elsewhere in the draw. Gilles Simon continued to live up his No. 6-seed status with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win over the big-serving Australian Chris Guccione. Guccione’s departure means this year is the first since 2002 that no Australian player has reached the third round of the men’s draw. Simon faces Mario Ancic, who defeated the No. 25 seed Ivo Karlovic, 5-7, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 – Dr. Ivo 0-10 in five-setters afterwards! Simon and Richard Gasquet are joined in the last 32 by their compatriot Gael Monfils. The No. 12 seed dropped a set against Stefan Koubek, but held his nerve for a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory. Israel’s Dudi Sela will be one of the lowest-ranked players in the last 32. The world No. 106, who had to come through qualifying to make the main draw, followed up his first-round win over the No. 30 seed Rainer Schuettler with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Romania’s Victor Hanescu. Andy Murray finally got his Australian Open campaign off the ground today with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory against Marcel Granollers (in the first round against semi-retired Andrei Pavel, Murray played just 12 games in 45 minutes when the Romanian decided he couldn’t continue). Murray got a longer work-out in today’s night session, taking 1 hour 50 minutes for his straight-sets win against 22-year-old Granollers. While Murray never looked in trouble during the second-round match, there were times when he was clearly frustrated with his efforts, berating himself on a couple of occasions in the second set and again in the third. France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has moved into the third round at the Australian Open after beating Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic. Tsonga recovered after losing the first set to take the match in four sets, 6-7(4), 7-6(8), 7-6(7), 6-2. In a high-quality match played on the Hisense Arena, Tsonga and Ljubicic could barely be separated as they went toe-to-toe in an enthralling contest. “I played really well out there,” Tsonga said. “I was proud of myself because I was very courageous today.” Tsonga won two tie-breaks saving set points: *6:7 in the 2nd set & 3:6* in the 3rd set. Argentinian David Nalbandian suffered a shock defeat to Taiwanese player Yen-Hsun Lu  on Wednesday night to make his earliest Australian Open exit in seven years. Nalbandian, the 10th seed, who entered the Open in great form after winning last week’s Sydney International, fell 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 4-6, 2-6. It was the first time he has lost here before the third round since his Australian Open debut in 2002, having made it to at least the quarter-final stage four times since. Lu, the first Taiwanese player to break into the top 100, goes through to the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career. The 25-year-old ranked it alongside a win over Scottish rising star Murray at last year’s Beijing Olympics amongst his proudest moments in tennis. “Olympics I play for my country, but here is different… it’s two different events so I couldn’t compare which one is better,” he said. “But these two victories for me are really good memories and a really good experience for me.” Nalbandian said he did not feel he played particularly badly, but was surprised by how well Lu performed. “I never saw him before, but I know that he played some good tennis,” he said. “I think he just played great today, better than me and that was enough to get the victory.” Boisterous Bosnian and Serbian fans traded ethnic chants across a court Wednesday while Bosnian-born American Amer Delic held off France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu in a five-set match. Delic said he realized he was the middleman in what he called “a circus” but had no control over the spectators, whose noise disturbed the last two sets and affected both players’ concentration. “I couldn’t control any of that, though I was trying to,” said Delic, who moved to America with his parents when he was 14. “I felt bad for Paul and I apologized to him right after.” The 26-year-old from Jacksonville rallied from two sets down to beat No. 28 Mathieu 1-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 9-7 and advance to the third round. Mathieu, who led 4:1* in the 4th set, complained that the fans were like noisy soccer fans and were disrespectful, echoing complaints that arose after Delic’s first-round 5-set match against fellow American Taylor Dent. Dent’s father Phil, a former Australian player, charged that the Bosnian fans had heckled and taunted his son but Delic said they had just been supporting him. On Wednesday, however, fans focused less on the match and more on each other, swapping slurs that Delic refused to translate. It was reported the Serbian fans entered Court 13, where Delic was playing, after a Serbian player had finished a match on a nearby court. The tensions and enmity of the Balkan conflict have been transplanted to Australia along with the Bosnians, Serbians and Croatians who have migrated here, and they are among the most vocal fans at sporting events. Things turned ugly at the 2007 Australian Open, when fighting broke out between Croatian and Serbian fans at Melbourne Park and more than 150 people were removed from the grounds after attacking their rivals with fists, sticks, bottles and flagpoles. Delic realizes the high potential for disaster between fans at his next match, in which he faces defending champion Novak Djokovic – a Serbian. “I just hope the next match with Novak doesn’t turn into a World War III,” he said. “I’m going to try to tell my fans that we don’t need to be embarrassing ourselves in front of the world. I’m hoping Novak says something to Serbian fans, also. Leave the politics aside. It’s not my fault and it’s not Novak’s fault. We’re out here playing tennis and we need to keep it that way.” In other dramatic match, Igor Andreev outsmarted Ernests Gulbis 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4 trailing *2:4 in the 5th set. Roger Federer walloped young Russian Evgeny Korolev 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday, and in the process hit perhaps the shot of the tournament – an overhead smash that came off one of Korolev’s own overheads. Almost touching the back wall as he made the unlikely winner, Federer grinned broadly and pointed a triumphant finger to acknowledge the applause of the crowd. Korolev changed nationality to Kazakhstan in January 2010. Marcos Baghdatis defeated Robin Soderling 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 coming back from a *0:4 deficit in the 2nd set.
Third round: Martin Boulton
Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet‘s epic match on Saturday night was a tense, five-set thriller packed with high drama that ended in fireworks. Gonzalez, the 13th seed, won in a marathon 4 hours and 9 minutes, and his victory over the 24th seeded Frenchman on Margaret Court Arena will long be remembered by the packed house who witnessed it. After claiming two sets 6-3, 6-3 with thrilling, tactically astute tennis, Gasquet lost the third in 10/12 a tie-break (the Chilean saved only one match point at *6:7) – opening the door for Gonzalez to snatch the 4th 6-2 before closing out the match 12-10 in the 5th. In the decider Gonzalez saved mini-match points in three different games – four in total: 4:4 (15/40), 7:7 (30/40) & 10:10 (30/40). The exhausted combatants – who tallied a remarkable 165 winners – met at the net as a flare, set off in the stands, lit up the night sky. Former Grand Slam semifinalist, Wally Masur, who was commentating for Fox Sports, said the match lacked the cachet of a centre-court final, but produced one of the great moments in Australian Open history. “Good matches take on a life of their own and this was definitely one of the best matches I’ve seen,” Masur told The Age. “It was high energy, great ball striking, smart, tactical tennis of the highest order… it was brilliant.” Gasquet executed his plans perfectly in the opening two sets by rushing Gonzalez, serving beautifully and controlling the tempo before the match turned dramatically. “Gonzalez just hung around, hung around and hung around,” Masur said. The Chilean later said there were “too many points” to recall exact moments, but felt his opponent was trying to save energy after leaping out to a two-set lead in 63 minutes. “He was playing like a super hero… I couldn’t do anything,” he said. The tension in the arena lifted briefly when Gasquet had a hole drilled in a troublesome toenail to relieve painful pressure, while Gonzalez was struggling with bleeding feet. “There was all this drama going on, but the main thing was the quality of the tennis,” Masur said. When the match ended, just before midnight, Gonzalez had 85 winners. Gasquet, who finished with seven more unforced errors, had 80 winners. “The number of winners was outrageous and, in proportion to the errors they made trying to make those winners, it was pretty spectacular,” Masur said. Gonzalez finished the night with 51 unforced errors to Gasquet’s 58. Gonzalez, who was playing Gasquet for the first time, hit three winners in the last game for his 14th victory in 26, five-set matches. Rafael Nadal moved closer to a likely semi-final showdown with Andy Murray after dispatching of Tommy Haas in straight sets in their third-round clash. The best player in the world was again in imperious form as he eased past the former world No. 2 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the final night match on the Rod Laver Arena. Last year’s beaten finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sustained his hopes of going one better this time around by beating the Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela in four sets. Sela rallied in the third, as concerns over Tsonga’s fitness raised their head, but the Frenchman rattled off the decisive fourth to win 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 and join his compatriots Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils in the fourth round. Simon, seeded 6th despite a modest record at the majors, recorded a 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-2 victory over Mario Ancic and will now face Monfils, also a straight sets winner over Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. Monfils came into the tournament overshadowed by higher-profile countrymen Tsonga and Simon, despite some impressive results this year, including victory over Nadal in Doha. He dominated Almagro over the early part of the match, breaking the Spaniard once in the 2st set and twice in the 3nd to open up a 2-0 lead. Almagro fought back hard in the 3rd set and games went on serve until the Spaniard was serving at 5:6. On the first point of the game Monfils hit a backhand return that appeared to land wide, but which was called in. After checking with his coach, Almagro asked for a Hawkyeye challenge only to be told he was not allowed to as he hadn’t asked for it immediately. Almagro argued with the umpire for some minutes without success and appeared distracted when he went back to serve, promptly losing the game to 15 to hand the match to Monfils. Elsewhere, American ninth seed James Blake progressed in four sets against Russian Igor Andreev improving his perfect recover vs. the Russian to 6-0. Spain’s Fernando Verdasco was another of the day’s winners, obliterating the challenge of Radek Stepanek for the loss of just four games (6-4, 6-0, 6-0; they met two weeks before in the Brisbane final and Stepanek was the winner!). Marat Safin‘s 3-6, 2-6, 6-7(5) defeat by the apparently re-energized and re-focused Roger Federer on Rod Laver Arena last night was certainly no disgrace, particularly given he had carried into the tournament the type of aches and pains that have prompted talk of retirement. If Federer’s brilliance was not hard enough for Safin to take, the Russian was double-faulted on a foot-fault while serving at 1:3 in the 3rd-set tie-breaker, prompting the type of exasperated response that was more reminiscent of vintage Safin than most of his tennis. As Safin left the scene, Federer moved into a fourth-round match against 20th seeded Czech Thomas Berdych, a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 conqueror of his fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka – having not lost a set in his first three matches. “It was always special to play Marat, we go way back and I think we kind of like playing each other, it doesn’t matter who wins, we are good personalities against each other,” Federer said. “I’m happy to win tonight, I thought Marat started to play well towards the end, so I’m happy I got through.” Violence erupted at the Australian Open today when dozens fought after the big-screen viewing of the third-round match between the Serbian defending champion Novak Djokovic and Amer Delic, who plays for the United States but was born in Bosnia. Djokovic lost a set for the first time in the tournament and had to fend off two more set points in the 4th (at *4:5, 15/40) before beating Delic 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) – almost identical scoreline to their Wimbledon match two years before which D’Joke won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4). But moments after the pair had embraced at the net and waved to all parts of the Rod Laver Arena, water bottles and plastic chairs were hurled between the Bosnian and Serbian fans who had been watching the match in a garden adjacent to the arena. Two men were arrested and another 30 were ejected after they began trading punches and kicks. One Bosnian woman was knocked out after being hit on the head by a chair. The fighting flared for a second time, outside the Melbourne Park grounds. The two were charged with riotous behaviour and discharging a missile while another was fined on the spot for riotous behaviour. “The matter was dealt with very quickly and effectively by the police and we expect no more problems,” said Chris Duthie, an inspector with Victoria police. “We have a very effective police presence here. You can’t stop everything happening but we will make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen.” The Australian Open has been marred by violent clashes since 150 Croatians and Serbians first began brawling at the event two years ago. Two people were also evicted on Wednesday after scuffling at a bar following the match between Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia. Delic and Djokovic said they were disappointed with the trouble after their good-spirited match. “I’m really sad to hear about that,” Delic said of the scuffles. “There’s absolutely no place for that here. This is a tennis match. Novak and I are friends. We’re both competitors, obviously. In the end it was a fair match, and there was no reason for such things.”
Fourth round: (BBC)
Britain’s Andy Murray saw his hopes of winning a first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open end with a five-set defeat by Fernando Verdasco. The Spaniard, ranked 15 in the world, prevailed 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Murray twice led by a set but could not find any consistency and in the end the power and aggression of Verdasco’s game proved too much. On a hot afternoon in Melbourne, Murray produced a desperately uneven display that will be a major disappointment after his superb start to 2009. He got nowhere near the form that saw him beat in Abu Dhabi (exhibition event) the likes of Nadal and Federer in an unbeaten start to the year. Having won all five of their previous encounters on tour, and in the form of his life, the Briton began as a strong favourite. And with the Spaniard seemingly reluctant to play his usual aggressive game in the early stages, Murray simply lured Verdasco into mistakes as he broke twice to take the opening set comfortably. But when Verdasco changed his approach in the 2nd set, Murray was left floundering, and a succession of poor drop shots contributed to his downfall. A missed volley in game two handed Verdasco a break of serve and then he went 4:0 up after converting his sixth break point of an epic 4th game. Verdasco’s heavy forehand was starting to fire and the passive rallying of the first set was no longer working for Murray, who was broken again as he dropped the second set. A lengthy struggle looked on the cards but Murray grabbed the initiative at the start of the 3rd set and broke two times as he mixed up the pace more often. The 4th set proved to be a replica of the second, however, as Verdasco broke immediately and went through the set serving at an incredible 93% to force a decider. Murray earned the first break point in game six of a tense final set but Verdasco responded brilliantly with successive aces, and he held off another by dominating a magnificent rally with his forehand. Verdasco made the Scot pay by getting the crucial break in the very next game and he held his nerve impressively to serve out for victory in 3 hours and 12 minutes. “I don’t think it was anything to do with physical, concentration or my game,” Murray said afterwards. “He played too good for me – that’s what happens. I’m not here to try and make excuses for why I lost.” He added: “I don’t know what to say, the guy’s a very, very good player. Sometimes they play better than you and he did today, unfortunately. Last year I had a tough loss [against Tsonga in the first round], this year is obviously a tough loss as well. I came back strongly last year and I plan to go and work on my game and hopefully get better.” France’s fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga destroyed American number two James Blake 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(3) to reach the quarter-finals as his Australian Open love affair continued. Tsonga, who reached his first tour final here last year, didn’t face a break point until the 3rd set and dominated the tie-break to wrap it up in 2 hours and 23 minutes. He said. “I’m stronger maybe in my head, and it helps a lot.” An early break was enough for the first set and Tsonga applied the same strategy in the second, following up three deep backhands with a cute volley on set point for a 2-0 lead. After an intermission for Australia Day fireworks, Blake earned his first break points of the match and converted with a penetrating winner that left Tsonga flat-footed. But he was foiled twice when serving for the set and Tsonga broke for 4:5 with a brilliantly anticipated volley and then an inch-perfect forehand. Blake (he had two set points serving in the 9th game), looking increasingly frustrated, was soon behind in an error-strewn tie-break and Tsonga pummeled some big forehands for match point before sealing it with an ace. “This year it’s a bit different because I have more experience now and I’m playing better. I hope I’ll get a better result,” Tsonga said. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has kept alive his Australian Open defense with a 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-7(5), 6-2 win over Marcos Baghdatis that stretched into the early hours of Monday. Djokovic, steadily growing in confidence with each match of the tournament, survived a spirited comeback from the flamboyant Baghdatis to set up a quarter-final clash with American Andy Roddick, who advanced safely with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 win over Spain’s Tommy Robredo [next to last match between Roddick & Robredo; in the end H2H 11-0 to A-Rod, who dropped just one set!] “It’s big relief,” Djokovic said. “I was really happy to get through in the fourth set. It could really go either way. We had long rallies, even though the results don’t show the real picture. Once he gets into the rhythm, he’s one of the toughest opponents on this surface and I was aware of that.” Djokovic raced through the opening set in 25 minutes but the rest of the match was much tighter as Baghdatis, a finalist at Melbourne Park three years ago, began to find his rhythm after a slow start. Djokovic fought back from a break down to win the 2nd in a tie-break (later on *5:6, 15/30) but Baghdatis won the third, also in a tie-break (the Cypriot was two points away from defeat at 5:6, 30-all), as the world number three starting to show signs of tiring. Djokovic regained the initiative when he broke Baghdatis at the start of the 4th then broke him again before serving out for victory after three-and-a-quarter hours on centre court. “I feel more confident the more wins I have under my belt,” Djokovic said. Roger Federer won his match against Tomas Berdych, keeping alive his chances of a record-equaling 14th Grand Slam. Federer prevailed 4-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to his 22nd Grand Slam quarter-final. The result appeared certain to go against the three-time Australian Open winner. The Swiss superstar has reached the semi-finals or better at 18 straight Slams, but another nightmare loss to Berdych – who ambushed him at the 2004 Athens Olympics – looked a real possibility as his Czech opponent dominated the first two sets. Federer made 42 unforced errors, dropped his serve five times and played, for long stretches, appallingly. Needing to win the Open to match Pete Sampras‘ all-time record 14 major victories, an anxious Federer lived to fight another day as Berdych turned, in the space of a few games, from the master of the situation into a man gasping for breath. Time after time during the 3rd and 4th sets, Berdych had the biggest money winner in the game’s history at his mercy but he failed to put him away and Federer seized the opportunity to claim victory. But it took him three-and-a-half hours to see off the world No. 21. “You’ve got to hang in there, right?” a relieved Federer said. “I fought as hard as I could. I tried to weather the storm because, God, Tomas was hitting the ball so heavy there wasn’t really much I could do. I haven’t come back from two sets down for a while, so hopefully it’s a good omen.” In a match between two 20-year-old 6’6 (198 cm) giants Juan Martin del Potro out-slugged 19th seed Marin Cilic 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The Argentine lost the 1st set like in his opening set of the previous match (vs. Gilles Muller), namely trying to save a set point with a powerful second serve.
Top-ranked Rafael Nadal won his fifth match at the Australian Open without dropping a set by beating Gilles Simon 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 on Wednesday. Nadal’s victory set up an all-Spanish semifinal after 14th-seeded Fernando Verdasco – the lowest-ranked player to reach the quarterfinals – beat No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, last year’s runner-up, 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. “I think it’s incredible for us,” Nadal said. “One will be in the finals, so we have to be happy with that.” While Nadal continued his streak of not dropping a set, he was strongly tested by the sixth-seeded Frenchman. Simon broke his serve three times – matching Nadal’s total for the tournament – and had a set point with the Spaniard serving at *4:5 in the 2nd set. But Nadal was up to the task, ripping several winners on the run that were never inside the court until they landed and skipped away untouched. Simon won their last meeting in Madrid in October. “I was coming to the match with some doubts,” Nadal said. “But I knew I was playing better here.” Simon is one of the quickest players around, but Nadal ground him down by constantly sending him sprinting from corner to corner. Even with the roof still closed, the lanky Simon was pouring out sweat. Nadal got his seventh service break on a forehand that caught the line for a 6:5 edge in the 3rd set, then held at ‘love’ with Simon sending a forehand long on match point. Tsonga lost to Djokovic in the 2008 title match and was seeded fifth this year. The 25-year-old Verdasco, a key player in Spain’s Davis Cup win, has never advanced past the fourth round at any Grand Slam and never past the second round at the Australian Open. Tsonga, last year’s beaten Australian Open finalist, had his chances, only to squander them with a lack of discipline on big games. The Frenchman had been competitive throughout the 1st set, before seemingly losing concentration in the tie-break. A rare error from Verdasco, who slapped a simple volley out of court on game point in the 6th game, allowed Tsonga the advantage in the 2nd set. He held onto it to level the score having converted only one of seven break points in the first two sets. But that was the last piece of serious resistance Tsonga showed. He dropped his first serve in the 3rd set and Verdasco maintained his superiority to take it without being threatened. It was the same in the 4th with Tsonga again dropping his first serve of the game and providing little more than token opposition. As it had done in his fourth round match against Murray, Verdasco’s serve set up the victory. He put a solid 88 per cent of his first serves into play in the final set and 78 per cent for the match. The defeat leaves Tsonga’s appearance in last year’s Open final as his Grand Slam highlight. He didn’t play in either the French Open or at Wimbledon and won only two matches at the US Open. Apart from his Davis Cup heroics, Verdasco made it into the top 20 for the first time and reached the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the French Open. Novak Djokovic‘s hopes for a second straight Australian Open title ended under a broiling sun Tuesday. With ice packs and massages failing to provide relief, third-ranked Djokovic looked increasingly woozy and gave up while trailing 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2, 2-1, allowing No. 7 Andy Roddick to claim a spot in the semifinals. Roddick will face second-ranked Roger Federer, who moved two victories from a record-tying 14th Grand Slam title by routing No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-3, 6-0, 6-0. “I played great tonight, I didn’t expect a result like this,” said the Swiss, “For me, it is a fabulous effort, I’m delighted. When all of a sudden it clicks, it’s a nice thing.” Federer, who owns a 15-2 advantage over Roddick, ran off the last 13 games against Del Potro! The crowd during the night match was definitely pro-Federer, with Swiss flags abounding, it began backing the increasingly dispirited Del Potro. But nothing could stop Federer, who won 51 of the last 65 points and finished with 38 winners to a mere nine unforced errors. Djokovic said he was cramping and sore, and “didn’t really have time to recover” from his previous match, which ended at 2:26 a.m. Monday. “Conditions were extreme today. It did affect more on me than him, as you could see,” Djokovic said. “But, you know, that was the situation. I just have to cope with it. Really tried my best, but sometimes you can’t fight against your own body.” Roddick, meanwhile, looked as fit as ever. After losing 15 pounds (7 kg) with a tough off-season workout regimen under new coach Larry Stefanki, he was quicker and his backhand stronger. The match left little doubt about the American’s stamina on a day when temperatures hit 95 degrees (35 Celsius) with not a cloud in the sky. “It’s rewarding to come out on a day like today, when it’s pretty hot, and feel pretty good. That’s what you do the work for,” Roddick said. The 21-year-old Serb lamented he didn’t get to sleep until 6 a.m. Monday after his previous match against Baghdatis ended, and that he had been unable to practice as a result. He said he had requested another night match. “Obviously, it’s very disappointing way to finish my first Grand Slam of the year,” he said. “But you have to take the best out of it and be positive. There is still a long season in front of me.” It’s not the first time Djokovic hasn’t been able to finish a big match in a major. He retired in his quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal with a back problem at the 2006 French Open and his semifinal against the Spaniard at Wimbledon in 2007. Both Djokovic and Roddick rode their powerful serves – Roddick cranked his up to 139 mph – and easily held until the 1st-set tiebreaker. Djokovic took control with one of his best stretches, whipping winners on the first four points, and a serve return that trickled over the net gave him set point. Roddick dropped only two points in five service games in the 2nd set, getting the first break of the match for a 4:3 edge. A series of drop shots made the difference. Djokovic tried a drop shot but Roddick got to the ball on the dead run, flicked a drop of his own and blocked Djokovic’s return into the open court. On break point, Roddick sliced a drop that set up an overhead winner. The American never looked back since then.
Roger Federer moved within one victory of tying Pete Sampras‘ record of 14th Grand Slam titles by dominating Andy Roddick 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 Thursday to reach the Australian Open final. “I don’t have to wait to see who wins, I can start preparing for a lefty tonight,” Federer said. By the time Federer and Roddick were on court in the evening, temperatures had dropped to 91 degrees from 112 in the afternoon – news reports called it Melbourne’s hottest January day since 1939 – so the retractable roof was open. That would seem to have given Roddick, who grew up in the heat of Texas and Florida, an edge. Against a hot Federer, it didn’t matter. A behind-the-back hit right to the ballboy after a Roddick fault in the first game was a dead giveaway. Although Roddick won their last meeting, Federer held a 15-2 edge over him coming into the match. “The last time I lost, so coming into this match there was a bit of pressure,” Federer said. It didn’t show. Instead, this one played out like many of the Swiss star’s previous victories. Blunting Roddick’s blistering serves, Federer broke twice in the 1st set. Adding to Roddick’s frustration was a call that went against him as Federer served at 4:1. A Federer shot was called ‘out’, but he successfully challenged. Chair umpire Enric Molina ruled that Roddick couldn’t have gotten to the ball and gave the point to Federer. Roddick argued he stopped running when he heard the “out” call, and he had a running dialogue with Molina during several changeovers. With both players holding easily in the 2nd set, a tiebreaker loomed with Roddick serving at 5:5. Federer broke at love, then easily held with Roddick failing to get a serve return back in play. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” Roddick said. “You’re down two sets to him and scraping, trying to survive. I hit the ball pretty well. He just came up with shots when he needed to. That’s what he does.” Roddick had 38 winners, only 18 unforced errors and 2 double faults. After serving a double-fault at 2:2 in the 3rd set, Roddick got a warning for an audible obscenity and told Molina: “I take back the apology.” Roddick served again at 5:5 in the 3rd set, and Federer – who seems to come up with his best tennis under pressure – broke again. He easily held, finishing off the match with a forehand down the line – his 51st winner to just 15 unforced errors. “Towards the end of the tournament, I think this is where you should judge a great player,” Federer said… It took the longest match in Australian Open history, but top-ranked Rafael Nadal finally vanquished fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to gain the championship round. Nadal won 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4 in a semifinal that lasted 5 hours and 14 minutes, ending after 1 a.m. Saturday Melbourne time, 9 a.m. “It was very tough to play aggressive against a player like Fernando,” Nadal said. “He played unbelievable. Only when you’re playing very well can you have these wins.” There were no arguments, no gamesmanship, just great shots, with the momentum shifting on a handful of key points. The previous longest match at Melbourne Park came in 1991, when Boris Becker needed 5 hours and 11 minutes to beat Italian Omar Camporese, with the fifth set going 14-12. Federer’s semifinal lasted under 90 minutes, a time span Nadal realized just after his marathon as he looked forward to the title round. Nadal said it would be tough to recover for his first Grand Slam final on a hard court. “Roger has a bit of an advantage over me,” Nadal said. “He’s resting right now. But I want to try my best. It’s very important for me to be in this final. Whatever happens on Sunday, I’ve started the season my best ever.” With the arena’s namesake, Rod Laver – a pretty good leftie in his own right – in the crowd and Spanish flags scattered around, Nadal found his renowned defense tested to the limit as Verdasco ripped 95 winners. But while he bent, he never broke, committing fewer than 10 unforced errors in every demanding set, including just four in the fifth. The 1st set went 75 minutes of long rallies more associated with a match on clay than a hardcourt. Nadal was serving at 4:3 in the tiebreaker when Verdasco ran off the last four points. The key shot was a backhand that trickled over to give him set point. A sharp volley set up an easy overhead, and the crowd erupted in cheers. A cool change had come through during the afternoon to ease Melbourne’s hottest three-day stretch on record – daytime temperatures topped 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) – but the constant sprinting from sideline to sideline left both players draping ice packs wrapped in towels around their shoulders during changeovers. The high quality of the tennis had fans – silent during play – giving standing ovations to both players for outstanding shots, and there were plenty of those. Another tiebreaker loomed in the 2nd set with Verdasco serving at 4:5, 40/15. This time it was Nadal, who had been looking a little puzzled and less confident than usual, running off four points in a row. At ‘deuce’, Verdasco hit what appeared to be a volley winner on the 17th shot of a tense rally. The ball was spinning away from Nadal, but he got to it on the dead run, flicking a forehand winner that was never in until it dropped in the corner to level the match. Verdasco managed a smile as he watched the replay on the big-screen TV suspended above the court. He sent a forehand long on the next point, and Nadal pumped his fist in celebration. They swapped four service breaks in the 3rd set, and the second tiebreaker quickly went Nadal’s way, with Verdasco looking increasingly drained. He called for the trainer to massage his left calf for apparent cramps twice during changeovers early in the 4th set and was clearly favoring it but worked through the pain. The third tiebreaker was all Verdasco as he raced to a 6:0 lead while forcing a deciding 5th set. Verdasco saved five break points in the deciding set before finally faltering. Serving at 4:5 he fell behind 0/40 to set up three match points for Nadal. He saved two with swinging volley winners, then double-faulted – only his fourth of the match. Both players dropped flat on the surface before Nadal got up, jumped over the net and gave his friend a hug. “I hope Rafa can recover as much as possible and be at his maximum and fight like he always does and win it. I don’t think the two semifinals should be on different days,” Verdasco said. “I think both should have the same rest, and I think they should change it in the future.”
Final: Christopher Clarey
It was not quite another tennis masterpiece. The much-anticipated rematch between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer lacked the consistent quality and, above all, the crescendo to the finish of their five-act drama in fading light at Wimbledon last year. But the Australian Open final on Sunday night was certainly epic entertainment. It also lasted five sets and more than four hours (4 hours 19 minutes to be precise). It also featured plenty of abrupt reversals of fortune and unexpected breaks of serve. And it also ended with Nadal triumphant and Federer devastated. Federer, the 27-year-old Swiss star, needed just one victory to match Pete Sampras’ career record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. But he faded badly in the final set and was then unable to keep his composure after Nadal’s 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2 victory. In the post-match ceremony, Federer choked up after receiving the runner-up plate from one of his idols, Rod Laver, and was unable to get more than a few sentences into his speech before he began to cry in earnest. “God it’s killing me,” he said, eventually backing away from the microphone. But this historic rivalry, one of the best in any sport, is also a friendly rivalry, despite all the power and spin these two well-mannered men use against each other when they are on opposite sides of a net. So it was no surprise that Nadal, the first Spaniard to win a singles title here, was soon putting his left arm around Federer, putting his head against his and helping him pull himself together long enough to finish the speech. “I don’t want to have the last word; this guy deserves it,” Federer said. “So, Rafa, congratulations. You played incredible. You deserve it, man.” It is difficult to argue with that. To reach the final, top-seeded Nadal had to win the longest match in Australian Open history in the semifinals, defeating his compatriot Fernando Verdasco in a five-set, 5-hour-14-minute classic. He then had one day fewer than No. 2 Federer to prepare for the 19th installment of their rivalry. The 22-year-old Nadal underwent intense physical therapy in an attempt to recover the freshness of mind and body required to stop a man on a mission. “I knew it was not going to affect him a lot,” Federer said of Nadal’s shorter preparation time. “It did not have any role to play in it, so I was ready for that.” Nadal was not nearly so certain that he would be in fine shape. After getting to sleep at 5 a.m. Saturday after his marathon semifinal, he woke at 1 p.m. He practiced lightly that afternoon and again Sunday afternoon. “I was having a bit of trouble practicing,” Nadal said through an interpreter. “I felt a little lightheaded when I practiced yesterday and today. I was pretty concerned, not being sure whether I could be at my best. It’s tough feeling that way when it’s your first final in Australia and you’re not sure you’re going to be 100 percent. But in the end, everything worked out well for me.” The process was hardly straightforward. Nadal rallied from 2:4* (15/30) in the 1st set, breaking Federer in the next game with the help of two phenomenal winners on the run. The Spaniard led *3:2 (30-all) in the 2nd set when Federer took the next four games to level at one set apiece. Nadal needed to save all six break points he faced in the 3d set, when he twice received treatment for a tight right thigh during changeovers. First, Nadal was 0/40 at 4-all – saved those mini-set points with backhand, forehand & service winners; then at 5-all he was 15/40 – Federer made two errors, on sixth break point Nadal delivered another forehand winner. “Winning the third was vital,” Nadal said. “It would have gotten very complicated if I had lost that set.” He also needed Federer, the Australian Open champion in 2004, ’06 and ’07, to serve much less convincingly than usual. Federer put only 52 percent of his first serves in play, by far his lowest percentage of the tournament. One of the most remarkable statistics was that Federer managed to win the second set with a first-serve percentage of only 37 percent. “Perhaps I should not have been out there in the fifth set at all,” Federer, still red-eyed, said an hour after the match. “I should have won the first set and the third. The rest of the story, we all know it.” But on the other hand, Nadal could theoretically win sets No. 2 & 4 which he lost – in the 4th set he wasted five break points with Federer serving at 2-all. Early in his career Nadal, like many Spanish players, was considered a clay-court specialist. But he is now well on his way to becoming a great multi-surface champion. He has won four consecutive French Opens on clay, the 2008 Wimbledon title on grass and, now, his first Grand Slam title on a hardcourt. “I’ve worked very hard the last, well, all my life to improve the tennis outside of clay,” said Nadal, who won the Olympic gold medal in men’s singles in August on a hardcourt in Beijing. But Nadal, for all the flashiness in his left-handed game, is also a self-effacing champion, one who continues to affirm that Federer is the greatest player ever, even as he continues to defeat him. Once he took the microphone, with the trophy in his hands, his first words were for his opponent. “Well, first of all, sorry for today,” he said, turning to face Federer. “I really know how you feel right now. It’s really tough. Remember, you’re a great champion. You’re one of the best in history.” Nadal then said that he was convinced Federer would beat Sampras’s record. Perhaps Federer will, but for now Nadal, however respectful, keeps blocking his path. Nadal has won five of the seven Grand Slam finals they have played, including the last three. He is 13-6 against Federer over all, and the only surface on which Federer still holds an advantage is grass, at 2-1. Nadal said: “I always have tried to go on court believing I can win and giving my best, thinking that if I don’t give my best and play my best, I’m not going to beat a player like Roger.” This final was the first to go five sets at the Australian Open since 1988, when Mats Wilander beat Pat Cash. But the roar heard at Rod Laver Arena when Federer held serve to even the match at two sets apiece was soon replaced by the groans and awkward silences that accompany an anticlimax. Federer, suddenly looking sluggish and off his rhythm, was broken in the 4th game of the final set, blowing a 30/0 lead on his serve by losing four straight points – three with unforced errors from the baseline and a double fault at 30/15. That gave Nadal a 3:1 lead. With Federer serving to stay in the match at 2:5, he quickly fell behind by 15/40. Although he saved two match points on uncharacteristic backhand errors by Nadal, he could not build on that brief reprieve. At ‘deuce’, Nadal hit a backhand winner; Federer appeared distracted by a shout of “out” from the crowd earlier in the rally. On the next and final point, Federer knocked a forehand long and Nadal immediately fell on his back, in celebration and relief. But as Nadal began to grasp the degree of Federer’s emotional distress, he added a moment of reflection to his moment of triumph. “Of course it can happen to all of us,” he said of Federer’s breakdown during the ceremony. “It was an emotional moment, and I think this also lifts up sport, to see a great champion like Federer expressing his emotions. It shows his human side. But in these moments, when you see a rival, who is also a comrade, feeling like this, you enjoy the victory a little bit less.” Nadal’s 32nd title (6th major). His first title since Olympic gold medal five months before (in the meantime he participated in four tournaments and the Davis Cup semifinal). Stats of the final.