January 20, 2009

An Inaugural Opener

Round One matches for the year's first Grand Slam are in the books, and as expected some players were welcomed to Australia with stunning victories, while others were ushered off the court, scratching their heads and wondering where the last eight years five sets had gone.

On the men's side only three seeds failed to advance -- #27 Feliciano Lopez lost to Gilles Muller, Flavio Cipolla only dropped a set to #29 Dmitry Tursunov, and Dudi Sela beat #30 Rainer Schuettler. But that doesn't mean the rest of the draw was without drama.

I'm strangely happy that Lleyton Hewitt failed in his comeback attempt but disappointed that neither Japan's Kei Nishikori nor the U.S.'s Sam Querrey were able to pull out upsets.

Other Americans fared better, however, in the hours and days leading up to a proud moment for our country. Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish -- all seeded in the top twenty-five, believe it or not -- only dropped one set between them in the first round (Mardy was the offender).

The women's seeds suffered a few more casualties -- seven in total -- headlined by the early exit of #9 Aggie Radwanska who failed to follow up on her quarterfinal appearance here last year. My favorite, Elena Dementieva, gave me quite a scare too -- she dropped her middle set to 88th-ranked Kristina Barrois in the sweltering heat -- and Ana Ivanovic took a while to find her footing, though both made it through relatively unscathed.

And two of the players I had my eyes on pre-tournament set the stage for possible comebacks -- Marcos Baghdatis rolled over Lyon runner-up Julien Benneteau, and Jelena Dokic emotionally pulled out her first Grand Slam match win since 2003.

The weirdest thing about this Open so far, though, is how disorienting it is to see the #2 next to Roger Federer's name. Yes, this is the second major where he's held the ranking since losing the top spot to Rafael Nadal, but somehow the higher number is so much more tangible now than it was at the U.S. Open. Maybe it's because Roger's proved himself more than fallible in the last few months. Maybe it's because a surging Andy Murray seems to be the real man to beat, even though he's only ranked #4. And similarly, on the women's side, only one of the top four players, Serena Williams, has ever won a Grand Slam before -- this could be the chance for a new star to shine.

So maybe this Australian Open will mark the beginning of a new era -- just like Inauguration Day will for the U.S. The reigning kings haven't quite been knocked off their thrones yet, but brand new players are out for blood.

And it's going to be an exciting campaign.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dementieva gave me quite a scare as well on Tuesday. Hopefully, she'll take the experience she gained from playing out in those blistering conditions and move through to the next round without as much drama.