Day Two at the 2013 Australian Open was rather nutty. There were some upsets, an injury scare, and of course, drama, excellence and mystery aplenty on the twenty tennis courts at Melbourne Park. Here’s what we learned:
1. Juan Martin del Potro means business this year. The World No. 7 played unbelievably well in his Melbourne debut. Yes, he played Adrian Mannarino, but he was hitting jaw-dropping shot after jaw-dropping shot. He hit 24 winners and just eight unforced errors in three sets.
To my eye, he also added a little bit of variety to his game. He prefers to hit mostly cross court, but he seemed to be changing things up more than usual, which opened up more room for him to hit huge forehand winners.
It’s hard to judge from one match, but a tactical shift in that direction would bode extremely well for his chances of winning his second Slam in 2013, since the top guys find it easy to pounce on his predictable shot patterns. If he manages to make a lasting change in that area, look out, Big Four.
2. Roger Federer didn’t look very rusty in the first match he played at the Australian Open. He served well and kept his errors to a minimum.
3. It’s nice to see a happy Andy Murray. He stopped by the ESPN set for an interview, and he was relaxed and in good spirits after a solid first round performance against Robin Haase. I liked the newfound confidence, and idly wondered if it will help him realize his full potential to win multiple Slams. Confidence can do amazing things for a tennis player. (See: Del Potro in 2009, Djokovic in 2011, Federer in numerous years.)
4. Gael Monfils can produce some of the most spectacular shotmaking in tennis. And then hit the most hideous, embarrassingly bad error. Not that that’s breaking news.
5. Young women have performed well so far at the Australian Open. According to Kevin Fischer of the WTA, teenagers have gone 11-6 in the opening round. Last year only three teens advanced to that round. The 17 teens in the tournament represent 14 different countries. The WTA’s future looks very bright.
1. Sabine Lisicki reminds me of Fernando González. A lot. The eagerness to pummel tennis balls with her forehand, the lack of patience during points, the overconfidence in that crappy backhand were all trademarks of the volatile Chilean. The only thing missing is the bad habit of smashing racquets. Some of Lisicki’s forehand winners provoke in me the same instinctive reaction I remember from watching Gonzo blast winners with his forehand: a short, stunned “Wo-”.
That is all very nice. But Lisicki nearly melted my brain during her match against Wozniacki. The German lost, but only after setting on fire endless opportunities to win.
2. Piotr Wozniacki might be the worst coach in tennis: (insert tweet)
Caroline Wozniacki’s reward for winning six games in a row to land victory – straight back onto practice court with a fired-up father
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) January 15, 2013
3. Ricardo Sánchez has no idea what he’s talking about. Nadia Petrova, his most recent ex-client and the world’s 12th best player, managed to win all of two games against someone who is 42 years and 109 days old. Realistically speaking, that’s as far as you can get from being a Slam contender.
4. Benoit Paire might be humorous to some, but I find watching him “play” tennis excruciating. It’s like watching a Lamborghini spin its wheels in mud, with no chance of ever escaping. The Too-Erratic-To-Get-Funded-By-The-French-Tennis-Federation man has the ability to do incredible things on a tennis court, yet five minutes watching him are enough to notice that it’ll never amount to anything. It’s just such a waste. Too bad that tennis doesn’t have an equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters: he’d be perfect there.
5. Tommy Haas still does Tommy Haas things. Just when you think experience should count for something, 34-year-old Tommy Haas double faulted twice in a row to hand over the decisive break in the fifth set of his marathon match with fellow old person Jarkko Nieminen. Some things never change.
1. Jarkko Nieminen is clutch! Okay, so I may be exaggerating just a little bit, but I was impressed by the often-mocked man from Finland in his five set win over Tommy Haas today. When Nieminen was facing match point late in the fifth set, he actually threw in a daring serve-and-volley to save it, one of the few times he used that tactic all match! Then after Haas helped him out by double faulting twice in his next service game to give Nieminen the break he needed, Nieminen served out the match without incident, emphatically sealing his victory with two aces. I think I’m going to make it a point to pay attention to more Nieminen matches this year — nobody seems to know much about him despite the fact that he’s been around forever, and I’m determined to figure him out.
2. Beware of the Qualifiers! Rajeev Ram, Lesia Tsurenko, and Daniel Brands are just a few of the qualifiers who made their mark on day two of the Australian Open with upset wins. I always say I’m going to pay more attention to qualies, but each year I fall short of my promise. There’s a lot of talent in that draw, and any professional player on a winning streak is dangerous. Brands takes on Tomic in round two in a match I am very much looking forward to.
3. Gael Monfils is incredible. I have a feature coming on the maddening Frenchmen later today with more thoughts, but I was very impressed with his four set win over Dolgopolov on Margaret Court Arena. The man was made for night sessions.
4. Kimiko Date-Krumm is a legend. At 42 years old she simply demolished Nadia Petrova (who I had picked as a quarterfinalist — oops!) and filled the rest of us mere mortals with shame in the process. Age really is just a number, I suppose.
5. Serena Williams might really be good enough to beat the rest of the field on one leg, and she might just have to do that. She had a scary fall in her first round match but still got a double bagel. Only time will tell how the ankle holds up.