1. Day Four was one of those long, crazy and seemingly unforgettable days at a Slam. The kind that turns casual fans into fans, and fans into junkies. Tennis was played for over 14 hours, which is absolutely ridiculous. Which made me think again about a realization I had last year: bless the French Open and their refusal to have lights on their courts. It’s nice to have regular tennis days that don’t stretch forever.
2. Elina Svitolina is an intriguing young player to keep an eye on. For one, she’s already won a WTA title (last year in the empty halls of Baku), and her game is extremely polished. She’s solid off both wings, and can defend at a very high level already. I really liked her composure today, particularly given the fact that she was playing an Aussie (who was playing well herself), and in such sweltering conditions. Her bout against Sloane Stephens in the third round should be extremely fun.
3. Speaking of Sloane Stephens, she was simply remarkable today. Of course, it should be said that for significant chunks of her match against Ajla Tomljanovic, Sloane was far from remarkable. She played a very lethargic first set (in which Tomljanovic didn’t miss much), but then worked her way into the match, and managed to turn it around: she was leading 3-0 in the third set when a bizarre electric thunderstorm hit Melbourne Park.
The rain delay took her off her rhythm, allowed Tomljanovic to regroup, and the 3-0 lead became a 4-5 deficit. Standing on the edge of the cliff, Sloane had one tough task to accomplish: produce an elite return game, or she was toast.
Guess what: Sloane Stephens produced exactly the kind of elite tennis that wins big matches on big stages. She was so impressive, so very purposeful in that brief do-or-die stretch, which culminated in a break of serve to clinch the match at 7-5.
Sloane is an enigma, but an extremely talented enigma at that. I think Paul Annacone is a great fit for her: he’s succeeded often in reminding elite talents that the best way forward is to be coherently aggressive and assertive. At the moment, Sloane still struggles to stamp her game on a match, and her ups and downs have everything to do with that. Because when she plays the kind of focused, aggressive tennis that we saw when her back was against the wall, my, is she dominant.
4. Let’s not forget that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga showed up to his match against Thomaz Bellucci today with a visor:
5. There was a lot of buzz for the Rod Laver Arena match between Rafael Nadal and local teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis. And in a way, the buzz was justified. The young Aussie competed quite well against Nadal, though never seemed to pose any semblance of a threat. Worryingly for Kokkinakis’s future, the World No. 1 failed to make any semblance of rankings projections regarding him, limiting to praising the serve and the forehand (the latter something with which I don’t agree), and saying Kokkinakis can be a “very good player” in the future. No top-14 projections, Rafael? That’s disappointing.
Anyway, I’ll have a Prospect Evaluation piece on Kokkinakis up later, so stay tuned for that.
6. Everything that can possibly be written about Donald Young has already been done, so I’ll limit myself to saying how neat it is to see the guy have some success.
7. The night session on Margaret Court Arena and Show Court 2 was extremely electric. In the former, another local teenager battled bravely against the ever unstable Benoit Paire, while on the latter, a seemingly routine match for a top 5 seed immediately turned into an intense affair, culminating in a shocking upset. More on that later.
Much will be written about Nick Kyrgios, so here’s my final thought about him: I’d like to see him do more of the good things we saw today (fearless, aggressive tennis, extremely positive body language throughout), but on a court that is not in Australia, and against someone other than the reliably insane Benoit Paire. Maybe it’s the Bernie factor of not wanting to read too much into a good performance on home soil with great crowd support. More often than not in a tennis player’s career those variables just aren’t available.
8. Speaking of Benoit Paire, he had no business being down two sets and a break to an 18-year-old. And yet, there he was, playing the big points poorly, and finding ways to lose his grip on the match. And yet, the too-unstable-even-for-the-French-Federation Benoit managed to pull through. Sure, it helped that Kyrgios’s legs lasted two and a half sets, but still. In a hostile atmosphere and against an inspired opponent, very few had Benoit pulling through. And he did. So maybe there’s some hope for a little bit of stability, of mental toughness in the future?
Nah. Plus, his forehand is still atrocious, and best described by Miguel Seabra’s tweet:
A sacred forehand; only God knows where it's going RT @juanjosetennis: Some of the FH mistakes by Benoit in that game were seriously comical
— Miguel Seabra (@MiguelSeabra) January 16, 2014
9. Finally, the performance of the 2014 Australian Open so far has to go to one Roberto Bautista Agut, who thoroughly outplayed Juan Martín del Potro en route to a most unlikely upset. Bautista Agut played the kind of possessed, aggressive tennis that Janko Tipsarevic played against Roger Federer in the second round of the 2008 Australian Open. It was all-out aggression, from all angles of the court. The big guy from Tandil was under siege for most of the match, and never could find a way to turn back the tide and impose his superiority over the unheralded Spaniard. One simple stat is quite telling: Bautista Agut ended up with 19 more winners than Delpo. It was a barrage of excellent shotmaking that saw the most determined player come away with the win.
As the match headed into a fifth set, I saw on Twitter that Delpo’s record in 5-setters was a mediocre 4-8. I dug deeper, and found that Juan Martín has now lost the last seven setters he partook in. Which is astounding. The last one he played was four years ago at this same tournament, and he overcame James Blake 10-8 in a decider. The now retired American was a miserable 4-16 in 5-setters, and he lost the first 10 he played in. Did Blake pass the torch of 5-setter futility to an unsuspecting Delpo?
1. I ranted about the heat policy, as JJ linked above, but I also thought this tweet summed it up perfectly:
— Chris P (@scoobschris) January 16, 2014
2. What’s next, Melbourne? Locusts?
Incredible image from Court 8 during Robert/Przysiezny third set tiebreak. pic.twitter.com/4u2KePCUyv
— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) January 16, 2014
3. I’m so happy for Donald Young to be into the third round after a tough five-set win over Andreas Seppi. He’s 24, and though he’s made a lot of mistakes in his already nearly decade-long career, it’s just hard not to root for him. I’ve been in press with him a few times, most recently a one-on-one after he qualified for the US Open, and he is such a nice kid. He’s clearly not the savior of tennis like was once thought, but it would be great to see him put it all together and have a solid top 50 career after all. At the very least, I think he can give Nishikori some trouble next round.
4. Look at your life, look at your choices, Fernando:
5. Take a bow, Maria Sharapova and Karin Knapp. That was some match under brutal conditions. To keep up that level of play–not perfect, but also not abysmal by any stretch–after three hours when everyone else was already sent into the air conditioning? Amazing. It’s always a joy to see Sharapova fight, and I hope that Knapp brings that game the rest of the season–she could be one to watch.