January 18, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

With only two days of play in the books for the 2011 Australian Open, we've already gotten a glimpse of what we might expect for the rest of the tournament and -- dare I say? -- at least the next few months of the year. Some of it is encouraging, some less so -- and the rest, well, I'll be generous and hold off my final judgment for now.

The Good

Let's start with the highlights -- the top seeds all had an easy time with their first rounds. Among the top ten men, only one lost a set, and the women were similarly impressive with Kim Clijsters and Marion Bartoli both serving up double bagels.

But we saw some inspired play from others as well. More than a couple seeds -- Mardy Fish, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- dug themselves out of two set deficits when they were all but out of contention. And 2009 U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro made a winning start in his return to the Slams, while fellow Argentine David Nalbandian survived probably the toughest first round opponent in Lleyton Hewitt in a nearly five-hour, early morning slugfest.

For the ladies Yanina Wickmayer, stuck with a tough opener against Hobart champion Jarmila Groth, survived her first test, while Aggie Radwanska, playing uber-veteran Kimiko Date Krumm stayed strong even when the crowd, her body and her racket all seemed to be against her. And Sorana Cirstea, once ranked in the top twenty-five, won her first main draw match since Copenhagen in August by beating a tough Mirjana Lucic in straight sets.

And if you want some bright signs for the future of the sport, check out Australian wildcard Bernard Tomic, and eighteen year old who took advantage of a spotty Jeremy Chardy to make the second round. Or qualifier Simona Halep, making her main draw debut in Melbourne -- she hung in for three sets and almost two hours against veteran Anne Kremer of Luxembourg. The young Romanian may rival Serbian #3 Bojana Jovanovski for the Newcomer of the Year award.

The Bad

Of course, for every good there is a not-so-good. Ana Ivanovic didn't make it out of her first round, but it wasn't for lack of trying. She pulled out a stellar performance against a simply more aggressive, more lethal Ekaterina Makarova on Tuesday, marking her earliest exit from the Australian Open. Sure, it's tough luck for the rebuilding Ivanovic, but we shouldn't take credit away from Makarova, who earned the win on her own merit.

Marcos Baghdatis was slightly more lucky than his counterpart, but it still took him five sets to take care of world #141 Grega Zemlja. He allowed the qualifier to break him four times and barely got half of his first serves in. I know the 2006 runner-up is injured, but the way he played, and especially facing Del Potro in the next round, I'm not sure he'll make another run in Australia this year.

The Ugly

Though their performances may not have been the strongest, I'm not ready to write off Ivanovic or Baghdatis yet. I'm a little more wary of the prospects for some others, though.

I came into this Open watching Aravane Rezai closely -- the Frenchwoman kicked off 2010 with a bang, having won the Bali championships the prior season and stunning Venus Williams in the Madrid finals, but hasn't made the third round of a tournament since July. She clung to a seventeenth seed in Melbourne, but fell in the first day to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, getting blanked in the opening set. Now with only one fourth round Major appearance in the last four years, she'll be hard-pressed to stay among the sport's elite.

And Sam Querrey may also be riding a career-high ranking, but he won only one match since the U.S. Open. He took a two-set-to-one lead on world #72 Lukasz Kubot, but failed to close out his match. After more than three hours of play, he earned the dubious honor of being the first seed to get booted, and has now lost his Melbourne opener for three straight years. It's not the best record for a man I once called the future of American tennis.

Speaking of the country's next-generation stars, Melanie Oudin has only won two Major matches since that glorious run in New York over a year ago. On Tuesday she notched her second loss in as many weeks to the Czech Republic's Klara Zakopalova. She dropped serve nine times in this most recent match, and won a measly thirty percent of her second serve points. Of course, at nineteen years of age she has plenty of time to climb back out of the hole -- but it sure would be a shame for her to have peaked so early.

With any tournament it's a given that we'll see some upsets and a couple standouts. But it sure feels like the early matches in Australia have given us a few extras to talk about this time around. We'll see if we if the top champions can fare as well in the later rounds, or if the nascent talent can keep its momentum going.

And it sure looks like it's only getting more exciting from here.

No comments: